Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Coke's Zero Waste Carbon Neutral Sponsorship

This year's winter Olympics saw the inauguration of Coke's first zero waste carbon neutral sponsorship. At the 2000 Olympic Games in Athens, Coke's sponsorship involved a modest recycling effort. At this year's Vancouver Olympic Games, visitors to the Coke café lounged on pine-beetle-salvaged wood furniture, and drank from bottles made from plant-based materials, delivered via hybrid vehicles and electric cart.

In general, the Olympics have been at the forefront of the environmental movement, said Benjamin Seeley, head of marketing communications for the International Olympic Committee. The Vancouver Organizing Committee was the first to incorporate sustainability into its mission statement and fully embed sustainability into its operations, he added. VANOC also created an award, the "Sustainability Star" to recognize partners for their efforts. Coca-Cola was one of the first corporate sponsors to receive the award.

"The world is evolving. The focus of the consumer is also changing," said Thierry Borra, Coca-Cola's director-Olympic Games management. "One thing that we know from the research is that sustainability is important to all of our customers and consumers. It has an impact on how consumers are perceiving our brand."

Coca-Cola is one of the first major marketers to embark on a zero-waste, carbon-neutral sponsorship of a large event like the Olympic Games. A sustainability package is an increasingly important part of what sponsors bring to the table.

William Chipps, senior editor of the IEG Sponsorship Report, said that the trend toward more-sustainable sponsorships has been gaining momentum in the last couple of years, "Consumers are looking for these types of programs," he said. "It's getting to the point where they're expecting them."

Coca-Cola started laying out its plans for the sponsorship in October 2006. The final plan was created in consultation with the World Wildlife Fund-Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation. An outside agency helped to assess the company's carbon footprint for the purchase of carbon offsets. All of which will be independently audited.

Coke's efforts include, but are not limited to the following: All 1,500 cooler units used eKOfresh technology, nearly eliminating direct greenhouse gas emissions and reducing indirect emissions. A fleet of diesel-electric hybrid heavy-duty vehicles delivered beverages from bottling facilities to the venues. Within the venues, electric carts were used to deliver beverages. The tables and displays at the "Far Coast" café in the athlete's village were made of wood salvaged from the pine-beetle epidemic in British Columbia. Menu boards were made of recycled materials. All staff uniforms were made of recycled bottles; in their welcome bags, athletes will receive T-shirts made of recycled bottles. Recycling bins will be scattered throughout the venues in an effort to divert 100% of recyclable waste from landfills. Coke's PlantBottle will be used for all sparkling beverages and water. Compostable cups and lids will be used for coffee. Carbon offsets were purchased to offset air travel, as well as on-site transportation. Within the Olympic Village, athletes were encouraged to make a pledge to help the environment. "Green Teams" have canvassed the Olympic Torch Relay route to clean up and recycle waste. All handouts have been recyclable, including aluminum bottles for sampling. Even the torchbearers were selected based on environmentally themed essays.

This sponsorship will subject Coca-Cola to increased scrutiny. Despite the potential for criticism, Coke's zero waste carbon neutral sponsorship is raising the bar for corporate America.

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