In the summer of 2012, I walked into the head office of Coca-Cola India expecting to spend the next six weeks fetching coffee and reading dreary reports like my friends were doing at their internships. By the end of my first day, however, I had learned two things: Coke treats its interns like they are full-time employees, and those reports become much easier to read when you have an unlimited supply of beverages five steps from your desk.

A Crash Course in Sustainability

As an economics, environment and politics major, I was interested in working in Coca-Cola’s Sustainability department, and was offered a position as an intern for Support My School, the company's joint campaign with NDTV and UNHabitat. At first, I wasn't sure what the world’s largest beverage company meant when it talked about “sustainable business.” Did that mean the company was planting more trees? Reducing emissions? The answer, I soon learned, was both — and then some.

Coca-Cola has made strides in corporate, social and environmental sustainability, and the Support My School campaign is the perfect blend of all three. The campaign does more than give rural and semi-urban schools new facilities: It gives underprivileged children the right to an education. Even though I am from India, I was shocked to learn that there are thousands of children across the country who don’t go to school because of something as basic as the lack of clean bathrooms. For most of us, clean bathrooms and drinking water are fundamental amenities that we take for granted, but for students who go to small schools in rural areas, these are considered luxuries.

Kasvi Malik poses with children from the Support My School program.

Kasvi Malik poses with some of the children from the schools.

Photos Courtesy of Kasvi Malik

When I visited the campaign’s flagship school in Jhundpur, Haryana, I was amazed at the number of students, particularly the girls, who said that they had only started regularly attending school after Support My School. But with libraries and computer labs, new and safer sports facilities, clean drinking water and sanitary bathrooms, these children spend the day enthusiastically learning all they can and then go home and help their families with the household chores. They want to be doctors, engineers and more when they grow up.

Setting Up India's Children for Success

In addition to providing new facilities, Support My School equips schools with long-term environmental sustainability tools, such as rainwater harvesting systems. The campaign provides the solution to the lack of child education, sanitation problems in rural schools, environmental sustainability in villages and districts, and health issues among various demographics.

Weekly discussions with my guide, Sameer Pathak, were an integral part of my internship. Each week, Sameer gave me reading materials about Coca-Cola’s other sustainability initiatives. I learned about various projects being planned and executed across the globe and how each one tied into the company’s sustainability framework. I learned that Coke has operations around the globe to develop more efficient ways to return more to the environment than what the company takes from it. Every day, Coca-Cola invests money in research and development on issues such as how to minimize the water usage ratio in production processes and how to make packaging more sustainable and less toxic.

How Coca-Cola Protects the Environment and Strengthens Communities

During our discussions, I was quizzed on the details of these various projects, how they would benefit stakeholders, the community and Coca-Cola. Having read the company’s sustainability reports multiple times, I can now confidently give anybody a detailed lecture about each of Coca-Cola’s sustainability projects in India, complete with descriptions of the technical processes involved. These discussions convinced me that Coca-Cola is a global leader, spearheading projects across the world, undertaking issues that have never been addressed before, and paving the way for the rest of the world to follow.

Support My School will always remain a project close to my heart, not just because of its cause, but because of the way it embodies Coca-Cola’s core values. I walked into Coke a relatively inexperienced student convinced that companies throw around the word sustainability as something they are forced to do, but as far as I can see, Coca-Cola has redefined the term altogether. If there is an opportunity for a sustainable project, Coca-Cola is involved in it. The company’s commitment to excellence is impressive, but its commitment to growth and development is inspiring.

Kasvi Malik

“Support My School will always remain a project close to my heart, not just because of its cause, but because of the way it embodies Coca-Cola’s core values,” says Malik.