The usage of water increased together with the growth of population. Water scarcity becomes one of the crisis issues that the world is facing whereas the amount of water in the world is finite. However, the pollution of water does not seem to go any better though the consequences of the issue can be foreseen or predicted. Regarding to this, modern consumers no longer focus on just the quality of the product but also considering the social performance of the company in their purchase of product. Coca-Cola Company, which is the world's largest beverage company, was boycotted by the student activists and trade union groups. One of the reasons that caused the outcome for being boycotted is that Coca-Cola created serious environmental issues in India. This paper examines how Coca-Cola responses in relation to the environmental issue created in India. It also examines the way of the company in handling with their stakeholders, and how they move forward, dealing with the environmental issue together with the Coca-Cola Enterprises in Washington, D.C, showing both their strengths and weaknesses in their performances within the same aspect of environmental issue in different countries.
The case against Coca-Cola
Coca-cola was being accused for creating environmental problems in India such as creating underground water table. It is alleged that more than 65 bore-wells in the plot had dug by Coca-Cola in order to extract the groundwater for production and operations use. Besides that, it is estimated that Coca Cola extracted 15 million liters of ground water free of cost and used for production and bottle washing. Reducing the costs and expenses is always favorable for all company. However, such purpose had caused the poor local residents surrounding to suffer over the years. The large amount of water extracting from the plant had caused depletion in underground water levels that leads in a result of water scarcity. Furthermore, chemical used in their bottle-washing operations were not released with adequate treatment leading to contamination of groundwater causing the groundwater turned turbid on boiling and was not suitable for consumption.
Coca-Cola rejected the accuse regarding to the irresponsible towards the environment in India with the support of a study conducted by Dr. R.N. Athvale, emeritus scientist for the National Geophysical research Institute (NGRI). According to the study, there was no field evidence that in the area surrounding the plant had overexploit the groundwater reserves. Besides that, the underground depletion of water level could not be attributed to the water extraction in the plant area as well. Hence, Coca-Cola concluded that they had no responsible on the charge. However, this is not convincible to the boycotters whereby several reports came out were pointing against Coca-Cola company. University of Michigan, which is one of the universities of boycotting the Coca-Cola products, had issued an offer to the company for agreeing the investigation by the commission, from a set of universities in the United States. The inability of responding before the deadline leads to an outcome of the joining of the university in the boycott campaign. This leads to the public that Coca-Cola are trying to push their responsibility on both the issues of hiring paramilitary death squads in Columbia and so do the environmental pollution in India. Though Coca-Cola had give a clear picture to the public that they are not involved in these issues, but yet, their response on these issues sounds irresponsible.
On the other hand, in 2003, British Broadcasting Corporation (BCC) Radio 4's Face the Facts program revealed that the sludge waste from the Coca-Cola plant in India contained high levels of carcinogenic heavy metals like cadmium and lead in a separate study conducted by them. BCC also pointed out that the toxic sludge were then distributed to the farmers as ‘fertilizer', and stopped by the government authorities when the toxicity of the sludge is confirmed. It was alleged that farmers raised protests when they are alert that those sludge were toxic. However, the waste was then dumped on the wayside and on the lands at night. Besides that, in the same year, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) of India found out the same result from the eight Coca-Cola bottling plants and ordered them to deal it accordingly as a hazardous waste.
Coca-Cola again denied the allegations made. Coca-Cola claimed that the sludge was made up of organic and inorganic material that will not be harmful or even contaminate the land. It is also widely used around the world including Coca-Cola itself as a soil enhancer. They also claimed that the sludge in all plants was monitored for composition and was disposed in a proper way. In addition, from a detailed study conducted by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), the other heavy metals and concentration of cadmium in the sludge were not as mentioned, above the standard limits and thus, it could not be considered as hazardous.
The case of Coca-Cola
In contrast with the case above, Coca-Cola is going green in Washington, D.C with the Coca-Cola Enterprises to demonstrate their efforts on reducing their environmental footprint at each step in manufacturing, distribution and sales processes through new climate friendly coolers, hybrid electric delivery trucks, and support for National Parks.
The new climate friendly coolers is a HFC-free and energy-efficient Coca-Cola coolers. It used a natural refrigerant gas, carbon dioxide (CO2) and HFC-free insulation to eliminate 99 percent of the direct green house gas (GHG) emissions. Compare to the older version of coolers, the new coolers are able to cuts energy use by an average of 26 percent and reduce 1,400 times global warming. The new cooler machine also able to reduce the indirect green house gas emissions by more than three tons over the lifetime of the machine compare to the typical HFC refrigerant gas. These new coolers will be first located in the House of Representatives in the coming week to test it and will deploy up to 1,800 Coca-Cola coolers and vending machine throughout the United States and Canada later.
On the other hand, Coca-Cola Enterprises has deployed 20 hybrid electric delivery trucks and trailers throughout the country last year. The features of these trucks and trailers is that they use about 30 percent less fuel and produce about 30 percent few emissions than the standard trucks. Besides that, the trucks and trailers will not cause environmental pollution when they are idling or in traffic as it will drastically reduce the emissions.
Instead of just focusing on their product development and improvement, Coca-Cola Company also supports the America's National park together with the National Park Service (NPS), the National Park Foundation (NPF), and the Trust for the National Mall (TNM), creating a recycling program for the National Mall and Memorial Parks. The recycling program will be developed after the evaluation of the waste stream at the National Mall. Besides that, in order to be more user-friendly to the visitors, the program will be designed according to the needs of the events and provide certain recycling education for the visitors in the park. The target of the Coca-Cola in this recycling program is that to achieve the goal of the Interior Department's, diverting 50 percent of solid waste from landfills by 2010.
Coca-Cola has both the strengths and weaknesses in their performance towards the environment aspect. From their going green project, it is shown that Coca-Cola had put a lot of effort in helping the environment. The new climate friendly coolers, hybrid electric delivery trucks and trailers and also funding for the National Park, these does not only required for huge capital but also time and effort in making these changes such as research and development and replacing their previous equipment with the new ones. Besides that, the recycling program in National Park is not just a standard recycling program designed by their officers in order to show their responsibility towards the environment but yet, they specially design the program to suit the park through the evaluation conducted and even provide recycling education.
However, the environmental issue raised in India had created a negative perception from the public towards the company. This happened as Coca-Cola's response does not match the result though they manage to have several reports to support their said. Besides that, the piece of news that publicized by New York Times, reporting that a government panel recommended Coca-Cola to fine for $47 million on the damages caused had worsen their current situation. From these, it is clearly shown that Coca-Cola had breached the social contract and yet, they are trying to pull themselves away from their responsibility. Whether they are found guilty in this issue, Coca-Cola should have increased in their transparency towards the public in their performance to prove they are innocent instead of conducting an internal investigation themselves which will increase the suspect of the public of hiding behind of them.
In conclusion, Coca-Cola had come out with a great going green program that is very beneficial to the environment but they had forgotten about the direct beneficial of their stakeholders. Their stakeholders are facing water scarcity in India. They should have focus more on how to improve the livings there in order for them to survive healthier than focusing on a rich country, improving the standard of living whereby the other side is facing at the edge of the life or death situation.