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Coca-Cola's Latest Environmental Scam

Under fire for its mismanagement of water resources in India, Coke has gone all out to create an image of itself as a leader in water conservation.

The Coca-Cola Co. is up to its old tricks again. The company, which is under fire for its mismanagement of water resources in India, has gone all out to manufacture an image of itself as a global leader in water conservation. Sections of Coca-Cola's Web site, for example, read like a proposal that a nongovernmental organization working on water issues might write.

Now, in an attempt to position itself as "aggressively" tackling the world's water problems, the company has come up with a new corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative -- water neutrality. The company has already announced that it will become water neutral in India by the end of 2009 and that it has plans to do so in its global operations as well. Sure, it all sounds good, and who could object to water-conservation measures in an increasingly water-scarce world? But just what does becoming water neutral mean?

In a concept paper on water neutrality developed in November 2007 by the Coca-Cola Co., the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, World Wildlife Fund and others,  it reads: "In a strict sense, the term 'water neutral' is troublesome and even may be misleading. It is often possible to reduce a water footprint, but it is generally impossible to bring it down to zero."

I see. Troublesome and misleading.

The concept paper also notes: "After having done everything that was technically possible and economically feasible, individuals, communities and businesses will always have a residual water footprint. In that sense, they can never become water neutral."

In other words, becoming water neutral is impossible.

And finally, the concept paper on water neutrality offers this: "Alternative names to 'water neutral' that have been suggested include water offset, water stewardship and water-use reduction and reuse. However none of these other terms seem to have the same gravity or resonance (inspiration) with the media, officials or NGOs as the term neutrality. For pragmatic reasons it may therefore be attractive to use the term 'water neutral,' but there is a definite need to be clear about precisely what it entails if reduction of water use to zero is not possible."

Just to be clear, we want to summarize what the concept paper on water neutrality has to say on the use of the term water neutrality. It is pragmatic to use a troublesome and misleading (but attractive) term like water neutrality -- which is impossible to achieve -- because it resonates well with the media, officials and NGOs. Welcome to Coca-Cola's world.

It doesn't really matter what the facts and reality may be. As long as it sounds good, no matter how misleading or troublesome the concept, they will market it to forge public opinion with the use of their mighty public relations apparatus. Coca-Cola announced its "water neutrality" goals in London and in San Francisco last week.

Little Drops of Misery

The International Campaign to Hold Coca-Cola Accountable for its abuses in India has been frustrated with Coca-Cola's increased public relations, under the guise of corporate social responsibility, to respond to the crisis that Coca-Cola has created in India. Communities living around some of Coca-Cola's bottling plants in India are experiencing severe water shortages -- due to Coca-Cola's extraction of water from the groundwater resource, as well as pollution by the company's plants.

Located primarily in rural areas, the hardest hit have been farmers who have seen significant declines in crop production, as well as women who now have to walk farther to access potable water. A study funded by Coca-Cola -- which the campaign forced it to agree to -- confirmed that Coca-Cola is a significant contributor to the water crises, and one of its key recommendations is that Coca-Cola shut down its bottling plant -- in Kala Dera in the state of Rajasthan -- where the community has been campaigning against Coca-Cola.

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