I was honored to participate in this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions (AMNC) – a gathering of over 1,500 participants across government, civil society and the private sector – in Tianjin, China. Also known as “Summer Davos”, my conversations here were engaging and far-ranging. I was inspired by my fellow participants and how we are collectively working to drive innovation, sustainability and large-scale transformations for the benefit of communities around the world.
I was especially pleased to participate as a panelist in a session at the AMNC on how systemic changes, strategic shifts and emerging technologies are transforming the future of consumption. I believe central to this transformation is adopting a Circular Economy mindset.
Turning Waste Into Value
Unlike under the traditional linear economy of “take-make-waste”, Coca-Cola has been focused on extracting the utmost value from every resource so that it not only aids in environmental sustainability, but also maximizes their value.
The circular economy aims to reuse, recycle and replenish the things we love the best while keeping their quality, which is a commendable and smart concept. Turning waste into value is an approach Coca-Cola has long embraced. How we will all make the shift to circular thinking and actions, and bring others with us on this journey, will be the challenge.
Coca-Cola’s business is only as sustainable as the communities we serve and, therefore, sustainability is the core of our operations. This has led to a focus on areas that present the most opportunities for supporting a circular economy: packaging, water resources and sustainable agriculture.
All Coca-Cola bottles and cans are recyclable or contain recycled material. Coca-Cola was also the first company to commercialize a fully recyclable PET bottle made partially from plant-based material, known as PlantBottle™, in 2009. PlantBottle packaging is made with up to 30 percent renewable materials from plants like sugarcane. It reduces dependence on fossil fuels, and since launch has eliminated the equivalent of more than 315,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from our PET plastic bottles.
We are reinventing our packaging, and I am proud to say that to date we have distributed more than 40 billion PlantBottle™ packages in more than 40 countries worldwide.
Changing Lives With Sustainability
Coca-Cola also has launched initiatives such as EKOCYCLE™ that have recycled PET bottles into sheets, mobile phone chargers, iPad covers, notebooks and sustainable jewelry that are produced by local communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Apart from significantly reducing waste and the impact on the environment, through recycling initiatives coupled with the company’s 5by20 women’s economic empowerment initiative, Coca-Cola is helping to provide a source of income for people – especially women – in developing regions.
Women around the world use our recyclable packaging to create unique handmade items such as handbags, jewelry, home décor and more. Our 5by20 initiative complements these efforts by providing access to business skills training, finance, mentors and peer networks. With increased income, women can invest in themselves and their communities.
The new way of circular thinking also extends to natural resources, the most important of which for Coca-Cola is water. A lack of access to clean drinking water threatens the health and farming in communities worldwide and is a priority area of Coca-Cola’s sustainability focus.
Coca-Cola’s global sustainability framework reflects circular thinking in the goal to replenish 100 percent of the water used in its finished beverages globally by 2020. In China, Coca-Cola met its 2020 water replenishment goal six years ahead of the schedule through 20 locally focused water resource management and protection projects covering 10 key river basins including source water protection, sustainable agriculture, water loss and soil erosion control, flood utilization, wetland protection and recovery, reclaimed water reuse and mini-wetlands in rural areas.
Education Key to Success
In the projects that test and clean water, which we use around world to provide safe cleaning drinking water for communities, education and awareness raising are key. Investing in just the technical hardware to provide clean water isn’t enough.
Innovation alone won’t do; wholesale transformation is required. I believe in the ability of human beings to think and create the intellectual capability to drive these changes. Our collective brain power is really the micro-chip of this world.
Bea Perez is chief sustainability officer at The Coca-Company