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Coca-Cola on board with emphasizing human impact

GreenBiz Group

October 12, 2020

Author: Heather Clancy

Coca-Cola on board with emphasizing human impact
Heather Clancy
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 00:15

The importance of setting science-based corporate strategies to address climate change is irrefutable.

But corporations need to think far more about the human impact of their business decisions. Companies that don’t act decisively on issues of equity and social justice at the same time will fall short of their ambition. And corporate advocacy must be integral to the process, according to a new roadmap published last week by Ceres.

"If 2020 has shown us anything it is the interconnectedness of the challenges that we face. So failure to address one issue is just going to exacerbate the risk of another," said Kristen Lang, senior director of the Ceres Company Network and lead author of the nonprofit’s latest set of suggested strategic, operational and policy change actions necessary for the corporate world to meet the warming-mitigation goals of the Paris Agreement.

That blueprint, The Ceres Roadmap 2030, isn’t meant to supersede existing frameworks or initiatives but rather to build on them and underscore high-level aspirations, she said. It urges a number of specific actions that go beyond the usual purview of sustainability teams and calls on companies to:

Commit to achieving net-zero emissions by 2040
Achieve resource positivity across key commodities by 2030
Reach water balance in watersheds of high-water stress
Enable a just and inclusive transition 

The suggestions in the roadmap can be organized into the following buckets:

Critical impact actions that relate to a company’s specific plans to address material issues across industries that minimize environmental and social damage and maximize the potential for more positive outcomes related to climate change.
Business integration actions that address how core business processes support those ambitions and embed consideration for sustainability into holistic strategy.  
Systems change actions that put businesses at the center of making sure the regulations and industry frameworks are in place to accelerate and support corporate climate mitigation.

"It’s here that we’re calling for companies to really ramp up policy advocacy, really redefine investor engagement and then also bring multisector collaboration to scale," Lang said, pointing to the last area of focus.

That advocacy includes a specific call to support gender parity within the workforce by the end of this decade as well as authentic attention to the "intersectional" diversity of the communities in which businesses operate.

The reality is each individual reflects diversity on several dimensions — including gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, Lang said. For that reason, corporate goals related to diversity, equity and inclusion must be aligned closely with the unique communities within which companies are doing business rather than aspiring to some generic declaration.

It needed, ultimately, to be a personal commitment. It couldn’t be something that I looked at and didn’t feel connected to.

That goes for every business decision, whether a company is opening a facility, launching a product, hiring a manager, siting a solar farm or identifying specific solutions or addressing critical climate issues such as water scarcity, she added.

Two recent examples of companies subscribing to this approach, Lang said, include General Mills, which in September announced its intention to halve its food waste as part of its commitment to more "climate-resilient" agriculture; and JPMorgan Chase, which last week said it will include goals of the Paris Agreement in decisions related to the sorts of projects it will finance.

Is your CEO personally committed?

Another company that has embraced the spirit of the new roadmap — including the call for systemic inclusion — is Coca-Cola, which participated in the Ceres launch event. "The pandemic is deepening preexisting inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems, which in turn ultimately are going to amplify the impact of the pandemic," said Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO James Quincey during an interview with Ceres CEO Mindy Lubber.

In response to the crisis, Coca-Cola is investing an additional $500 million into developing contracts with Black-owned businesses over the next five years — more than double its current spend. It is also one of more than 30 companies that committed at the end of September to disclosing race, ethnicity and gender data. "We need more transparency," Quincey said.   

The role of the CEO in supporting intersectional sustainability strategy includes committing to a process of continuous learning and recognizing that they don’t have all the answers; leveraging global scale to experiment and leverage local opportunities; and driving principles of sustainability into business processes.  

"It took me some time to evolve my own commitment," Quincey observed. "It needed, ultimately, to be a personal commitment. It couldn’t be something that I looked at and didn’t feel connected to. So together with our leadership team, we took quite a number of months and pored over each and every word. It has to feel like it’s written by the CEO."

One example of Coca-Cola’s evolving stance is its move to embed core sustainability issues into its board-level public policy committee. Earlier this year, it actively spoke out to support hate crime legislation in Georgia, adopted in June in the wake of Ahmaud Arbery’s death.

Quincey is also taking an active role in supporting changes to the company’s packaging, which accounts for almost one-third of Coca-Cola’s overall carbon footprint. No plan to reduce emissions will be effective without eliminating what can’t be easily recycled and changes processes to use higher rates of recycled content, he said.

One example of that commitment is a partnership between Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines and Indorama Ventures to build a "bottle to bottle" recycling plant that can process 2 billion bottles annually. That facility was expected to be opened in 2021, although that was before the pandemic.

"For me, embracing a sustainable business strategy is about taking a long-term approach," Quincey said. "Clearly, we need to act now, thinking about the next quarter-century, not just the next quarter."

This story was originally published by GreenBiz and can be accessed here.


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