A better version of Coke, or no Coke at all?

Posted on 18/11/2011


Since the start of this conversation, this (the title) has probably been the most interesting question for me. Is it enough for us to just have a better version of Coke, the less environmentally damaging one, or do we need to evolve to a future where Coke does not exist anymore? I am picking on Coke to stand as a symbol for consumer packaged goods, as it could be any number of products that have immense popularity and seemingly no real value to society.

As the third largest consumer of aluminium in the world, Coke needs the earth to make its product, but it is currently treating aluminium in its income statement, not in its balance sheet. The consumption of aluminium for making its product is only treated as a cost item and it does not take into account the depletion of a non-renewable (or at least slowly renewable) resource. Could we get Coke to only sell its products in materials that are renewable, or at least from fully recyclable materials? Always the optimist, I think this change is likely, and that day might come sooner than we think as the C-level executive board is already in talks about how if they do not make these changes it could damage their consumer identity and thus sales.

Coke is being sold throughout the world, it is consumed at lunch, dinner and even worse at breakfast. How did this happen? What is so wrong with water? We have developed a need for something beyond water at all of our meals and as a source of refreshment. The need for more choice, variety and ‘better’ has been placed in our minds my marketing over the years and it starts with ads targeted at children. These ads have manipulated us to believe we need something beyond just water to life a healthily life. And, in the case of Coke, there is really no good reason to drink it, there is nothing in the drink we cannot get from other sources and the rest of the drink provides little to no value and most would argue it destroys value.

On this site we often talk about marketing being the problem; marketing is only part of the problem, it is the core business model that is allowed to exist that is the root of the problem. If we allow, through regulation and policy, for companies to sell products that have no benefit to human beings, then you cannot blame a bunch of marketing executives for chasing the carrot that the CEO puts in front of them. Although it has been popular in the last 20 years to remove government from the markets, these next few years they need to step back in and protect society. Coke and products like them are heroin for our society: they feel good in the moment, but days, months, years later it is clear that it is not a good idea.

I am torn on whether the effort should be to remove Coke or make it more sustainable, and a case could be made that one answer could lead to the other; once we get a more sustainable version we could then move to removing it altogether. My gut tells me that we need to remove it altogether from society; we just do not need Coke. And if you want to make the argument of it being a great re-hydration tool in emergency situations, go for it, although I am sure we could find a way to replace even that use. It feels like this recent move to make stuff just more eco or social is just not enough for a category of products that are really creating no value for us in society. Our basic needs of water, food, energy, health, education, employment and human rights need to be re-engineered to be more sustainable — but if the product or service does not fit those needs, let’s get it out of our lives.

Live simply.

Posted in: Business, Social, Strategy