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Discussion Case: Coca-Cola’s Water Neutrality Initiative From approximately 2005 to the early 2010s, Coca-Cola faced an emerging issue: its cor- porate impact on water quality, availability, and access around the world. The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) was the world’s largest beverage company. The com- pany operated in more than 200 countries, providing 1.7 billion servings a day of carbon- ated beverages, juices and juice drinks, bottled water, and ready-to-drink coffees and teas. The company also partnered with more than 300 bottlers, independent companies that manufactured various Coca-Cola products under franchise. Seventy percent of the company’s revenue came from outside the United States. Water was essential to Coca-Cola’s business. The company and its bottlers used around 82 billion gallons of water worldwide every year. Of this, about two-fifths went into finished beverages, and the rest was used in the manufacturing process—for example, to wash bottles, clean equipment, and provide sanitation for employees. Water supplies were also essential to the production of many ingredients in its products, such as sugar, corn, citrus fruit, tea, and coffee. Coca-Cola’s chairman and CEO put it bluntly when he commented that unless the communities where the company operated had access to water, “we haven’t got a business.” In 2003, Coca-Cola was abruptly reminded of the impact of its water use on local com- munities when the Center for Science and the Environment, a think tank in India, charged that Coca-Cola products there contained dangerous levels of pesticide residues. Other activists in India charged that the company’s bottling plants used too much water, depriv- ing local villagers of supplies for drinking and irrigation. Local officials shut down a Coca- Cola bottling plant in the state of Kerala, saying it was depleting groundwater, and an Indian court issued an order requiring soft-drink makers to list pesticide residues on their labels. In the United States, the India Resource Center took up the cause, organizing a grassroots campaign to convince schools and colleges to boycott Coca-Cola products. Water was also emerging as a major concern to the world’s leaders. In the early 21st century, more than 1 billion people worldwide lacked access to safe drinking water. Water consumption was doubling every 20 years, an unsustainable rate of growth. By 2025, one- third of the world’s population was expected to face acute water shortages. The secretary general of the United Nations highlighted water stress as a major cause of disease, rising food prices, and regional conflicts, and called on national governments and corporations to take steps to address the issue. 44 Part One Business in Society Discussion Questions Coca-Cola undertook a comprehensive study, surveying its global operations to assess its water management practices and impacts. It also reached out to other stakeholders, includ- ing the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, the humanitarian organization CARE, and various academic experts, to seek their advice. As the leader of TCCC’s water steward- ship initiative explained, the company also “sat down with each of our top bottlers, all of our operating groups, and really walked through all aspects of water and really understood where they were coming from and reached consensus though a very deliberate process.” In 2007, TCCC announced an aspirational goal of water neutrality, “to safely return to nature and to communities an amount of water equal to what we use in all our beverages and their production, by the year 2020.” This goal would be accomplished in three ways: reduce, recycle, and replenish. The company said it would reduce its own use of water by running its operations more efficiently. It would discharge water used in manufacturing only if it were clean enough to support aquatic li


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