Mark Andrew, a former Hennepin County Board Chair and former chair of the Minnesota DFL Party, is the owner of GreenMark, a leading environmental marketing agency. GreenMark, the originator of the Minnesota Twins/Pentair Rain Water Recycle partnership, is currently finalizing the state's largest solar energy installation while delivering sustainable results on behalf of leading brands, nonprofits, public agencies and the public.

Coca Cola in the Third World

Posted by: Mark Andrew Updated: August 17, 2014 - 8:45 PM

Coke has gone green.

To Clarify: Coca Cola is one of many multi-nationals that has incorporated sustainability into its business model because it makes commercial sense.

This is especially true for firms like Coke that are pouring resources into stabilizing communities, cleaning up the environment and improving working conditions in third world and developing countries, as a business strategy.

For Coke, it’s about the water.

Clean, affordable, available water is so integral to their business and brand that Coke has joined up with its African bottlers and the U.S.--Africa Leaders Summit to announce another $5 billion investment in that nation, a total of over $17 billion for the decade ending in 2020.

Not all of that money is going to sustainable objectives, of course, but a lot of it is. Some of that money will fortify operations across the company’s supply chain-- manufacturing and cooling lines, production and distribution.

But there is also a broad social investment taking place—infusions of capital for new jobs with training for local residents, improving safe water access for communities, developing sustainable sourcing practices, making investments in women’s economic empowerment and suffusing local communities with a greater sense of well-being. Significantly, the company also signed a letter of intent to launch Source Africa—more consistent and sustainable local product sourcing in partnership with the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, and Grow Africa.

One might suspect that companies like Coke are becoming political bleeding hearts.

Don’t bank on it.

They are just trying to protect their sprawling enterprises. These firms are figuring out that constructive, organic investment in developing markets is more cost-effective than the old way of muscling their way into available markets through malleable politicians, a fist full of dollars and lofty, empty promises.

Many view the world’s 35,000 multinational companies as having the social conscience of piranhas in a feeding frenzy, with business practices just as pernicious. They have inflicted great damage on developing nations by stripping away indiginous resources and leaving generations of waste and poverty.

The poorest of the poor nations are perpetually vulnerable to exploitation of industries in the agriculture, international mining, global banking, utility and international tourism sectors.

Too many of these behemoths continue to view third world or developing country investments as easy prey for natural resource exploitation and they attack it with impunity-- and casual indifference toward the local economies. These are short-term romances that always end badly for the romanced.

So it's fair that big companies, like Nestle and Coke, are suspect on critical issues, from the privatization of public water supplies to their past behavior of commandeering local water resources for their own purposes when there isn’t enough water to satiate local economies.


But Coke's sizable investments in sustainable practices and community building is an economic expression of new business thinking, if not a new world order. More than anything, it will encourage others to follow suit with strategies that nurture host countries and resources they possess. 

In the case of Coke we will see whether their latest, substantial investments are fleeting social commitments of convenience, or whether this change is, like the claims of their signature product, the real thing.

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