What’s Up at Coke? Positive PR Undermined by Corporate Bullying

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Coca-Cola BottleCoke has been in the news recently because of positive PR on recycling and fund raising on behalf of the polar bear, but they’ve garnered equal if not greater attention for throwing their weight around to block public awareness of the mess their eternal, infernal plastic bottles create.

Coke announced this month that they will recycle every clear plastic (PETE) bottle collected at the London Olympic and Paralympic games in 2012.  That’s great!  The Olympics is obviously a fabulous venue for them to call attention to the good things they can do.

At virtually the same time, however, Coke got nailed for coming down hard on 19 Entertainment, producers of the hit TV show American Idol, because Idol arranged for their top singer/contestants from Season 10 to record a public service announcement for Plastic Pollution Coalition.

The message of the PSA is to refuse single-use plastics—that would be plastic bags, plastic cups, plastic straws and although not called out here, plastic bottles as well.  Apparently a certain VIP American Idol sponsor didn’t like the message, and has demanded that 19 Entertainment make the Plastic Pollution Coalition take the PSA down.

Coke has also just launched their holiday season marketing with a cute white Arctic motif to help raise funds for the critically endangered polar bear.  Coke has already donated $2 million to the World Wildlife Fund,  and from November 1 to March 15th, if you text a code on the product packaging, you can donate $1 to the WWF, which will be matched by Coke up to an additional $1 million.  That’s great!

At virtually the same time, however, Coke was quashing the Grand Canyon’s efforts to ban plastic water bottles in the park.  Although plastic water bottles account for 30% of the waste generated at the Grand Canyon (and a large percentage of the litter as well), the proposed water bottle ban was squelched by major National Park Foundation sponsor Coke, presumably because sales of their bottled water, Dasani, would have been directly impacted.

In light of Coca-Cola’s schizophrenic behavior on environmental issues, do you think Coke’s positive efforts are mere green washing, or do you think they are going through a rough transition to a new level of corporate responsibility?

UPDATE:  Grand Canyon National Park announced on February 6, 2012 that it would “eliminate the in-park sale of water packaged in individual disposable containers within 30 days.”  Parks Director Jonathan Jarvis said of the change:

This is another example of The National Park Service’s commitment to being an exemplar of the ways we can all reduce our imprint on the land as we embrace sustainable practices that will protect the parks for generations to come.

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