Coca Cola has invested $40 million in research and organized a coalition of companies that sell cold drinks and ice cream, including Unilever, McDonald's and PepsiCo. to attack the problem of conventional vending machines and coolers that keep drinks cold, run around-the-clock, rely on inefficient compressors and, worst of all, use HFCs, a potent greenhouse gas.
Last year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Coke declared victory by unveiling a new, HFC-free, super-efficient vending machine. About 8,000 of the climate-friendly machines have been deployed, most to high-profile venues like Davos and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
But all of its hard work hasn't done much for the planet. Coca-Cola and its bottlers still have about 10 million old-style coolers and vending machines deployed in the 210 countries where its products are sold. That's because its bottlers, who are independently owned, don't want to pay extra for HFC-free units. And manufacturers, who have lots of capital sunk into their current production lines, have yet to produce them in bulk.
More troubles abound in Coke, such as clear plastic bottles with screw-on tops- that are not currently sustainable. PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles account for nearly 50% of Coke's global volume, three times as much as aluminum. They're made from oil, a finite resource. And the company recovers or reuses only about 10% of the PET that it puts into the market.
This is not just a problem for Coke. Many big companies -- GE , Wal-Mart, GM , IBM and Procter & Gamble amongst others -- say they want to help save the planet, and they mean it. But doing so is not as easy a changing a light bulb. Either their customers won't go along, or their distributors balk, or a clean technology they want to deploy is not ready for prime time. This story is about the gap between good intentions and meaningful results.