For a corporate-minded Earth Day, Fortune takes a lengthy, largely sympathetic look at Coke’s environmental record and what it calls “the gap between good intentions and meaningful results.” The company’s CEO, E. Neville Isdell, calls himself “an early convert to the environmental movement,” and although it isn’t clear what that really means, he has, interestingly, recently given up meat.
Isdell also launched a campaign to reduce Coke’s water usage and to recycle or reuse all of the company’s oil-produced PET (or polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles. These initiatives have had various, and arguable, results, but what best exemplifies the difficulties of corporations going green is something you see every day: the vending machine. It’s a primitive beast: “Vending machines and commercial coolers that keep drinks cold run around-the-clock, rely on inefficient compressors and, worst of all, use HFCs, a potent greenhouse gas.” Challenged by Greenpeace to scrap existing machines for something more efficient, Coke invested $40 million in research and produced what Fortune calls “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.”
Why aren’t they elsewhere? Because the company’s independent bottlers don’t want to pay more for them and vending machine manufacturers don’t have enough orders to produce them in bulk, which would reduce the price. So the 10 million or so previous-generation Coke vending machines have yet to be replaced. And Coke doesn’t seem to know when, or if, they will be.