The Coca-Cola Company is an internship partner of Georgetown University’s Global Human Development (GHD) program. Each summer, two Master's candidates in the GHD program work in Coca-Cola offices around the world, getting firsthand experience in the areas of corporate social responsibility and sustainability. This special blog series highlights their time with Coca-Cola.
Arriving in Nairobi for my summer internship with Coca-Cola, I instantly saw the rapid growth and energy in the city. The streets were busy, apartment blocks were being constructed on every corner, and new businesses were popping up in all directions. It was an exciting time to be in this burgeoning, vibrant East African economic hub working with Coca-Cola’s Central, East and West Africa (CEWA) Business Unit.
Looking down on CEWA from a neighboring roof with my co-worker
However, there was one very apparent downside to the this rapid economic growth and urbanization: trash and plastic were everywhere, causing problems with drainage and flooding in urban areas and contamination of water supplies for people and animals in rural areas. While some shrug off pollution as a normal process of industrialization and development, the downstream costs to inaction would ultimately be greater for all. Failure to direct some investment and entrepreneurial spirit into recycling solutions would be a true waste.
A Proactive Approach to Recycling
Coca-Cola took a proactive approach to the issue of waste, recognizing that environmental stewardship and good business go hand in hand. As demand for plastic bottles grows in the region, Coca-Cola could foresee their growing contribution to the waste issue, albeit indirect, and sought out solutions to eliminate their products from the trash stream. The Kenyan government has instated taxes on producers of single-use plastic bags, and as a prominent packager, Coca-Cola could easily be seen as an additional source of the plastic problem.
A bustling but polluted city of Nairobi from atop the KICC Building
From my vantage point, from the Public Affairs & Communications (PAC) division, I witnessed how Coca-Cola happily took on a leadership role to addressing the issue. Moreover, they worked to align their business strategies with multiple sustainability initiatives, such as women's empowerment, youth skills building, and sustainable packaging. In doing so, they mitigated potential blame and enhanced their social license to operate, becoming part of the solution, rather than the problem.
'My experience with Coca-Cola showed me how even a large company can positively build on local resources. Their approach to recycling further exemplifies how with some creativity, businesses can effectively solve their business problems while maximizing social impact.'
Waste and Entrepreneurship
In true Nairobi fashion, this gap in waste management opened a space for local entrepreneurs to innovate. And Coca-Cola saw a new opportunity to support local economic development while meeting their recycling goals. They identified local recycling companies that work with underserved women and youth, building on the momentum of their 5by20 women’s empowerment initiative and youth projects, like the YES! Hub.
With CEWA, I began meeting with PET recycling social enterprises. Lorna Rutto, the founder of EcoPost, a plastic recycling social enterprise, explained to me the value of a partnership with Coca-Cola as it provided her business with quality plastic product for recycling but also prioritized the safe employment of her employees who were at-risk women and youth. She felt that despite being a global brand, Coca-Cola had a willingness to invest in and support local companies and communities.
My experience with Coca-Cola showed me how even a large company can positively build on local resources. Their approach to recycling further exemplifies how with some creativity, businesses can effectively solve their business problems while maximizing social impact.