The first time I saw the James Bond Coca-Cola ad, I didn’t think much about it. But now it turns my spit to bile.
It’s disgustingly ironic that the owners of the James Bond series would advertise Coke with a film about (spoiler alert) a greenwashing corporation stealing water from the third world. Because that perfectly describes Coca-Cola Inc.
For the past decade, Coke has invested heavily in bottled water. An increasingly health-conscious public, aware of the sickening effects of cola, drove down carbonated soft drink sales. Coke responded by bottling purified tap water and selling it under the name “Dasani.” Thanks to healthy sales of “healthy” drinks (which according to the New York Times are “still just sugar water”), Coca-Cola has enjoyed rising international sales.
Of course there have been setbacks. Coca-Cola recalled Dasani in the United Kingdom after they accidentally poisoned the bottled water with bromate, a possible carcinogen. At least it was only the Dasani that was tainted. In India, one of Coca-Cola’s fastest growing markets, problems ran deeper.
In 2004, the national Ground Water Board decided a plant in Kaladera was sucking away a region’s groundwater, taking enough water in seven months to irragate crops for 5,000 families – so much that it could dry the Earth’s crust, increasing the chance of an earthquake. Though Coca-Cola tried to placate locals by donating toward water pollution programs and building water tanks at a local school, residents still blamed the plant for the drought and demanded its closure. In a similar dispute that year in the state of Kaladera, locals and activists forced out a $16 million bottling plant. (Twice. No, sorry, three times.)
Despite those problems, sales in countries like India, China, and Turkey keep increasing Coke’s quarterly earnings. To maintain a green image, just this year the company has joined programs like The Climate Group, the World Wildlife Fund, and this month’s Corporate Water Footprinting conference in San Francisco. So why, as Planetsave’s partner blog EcoWorldly reported, did activists protest what seems like a none-too-soon corporate turnaround? Because Coke, of course, isn’t turning around at all. It’s greenwashing.
Coca-Cola’s CEO said last year that Coke is going “water neutral”: “Today, The Coca-Cola Company pledges to replace every drop of water we use in our beverages and their production.” But a report from the company says going water neutral is impossible.
The CEO promised to fight increasing droughts when India accuses his company of causing them. The company gave out bottled water in West Michigan – after polluting the area’s wells for 23 years. (A year later, no news of a long-term strategy has reached the press.)
Commenting on a Coke partnership with The Climate Group, the company’s North American president cited its “long history of supporting recycling and conservation,” a history that includes breaking its promise to use more recycled plastic and fighting “bottle bills” that would require deposits on recyclable bottles and cans.
So pardon us for not buying into Coke’s supposed commitment to going green. And maybe we’d take Coke’s participation in the San Francisco conference more seriously if instead of lobbying against bottle bills, they’d lobbied for the California bill that would force them to report how much water they’re using, a bill that Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed before declaring a statewide drought.
Coca-Cola wants to look sympathetic to the dangers of water scarcity. But those dangers are too profitable. According to the book The Blue Covenant, 50 million people got their water from private companies in 1990. By 2007, it was over 300 million. And as with oil, scarcity and demand drive up this commodity’s price.
No wonder, as a blogger at Food and Water Watch noticed, that Coca-Cola resembles not James Bond, but his enemy Dominic Greene. The villain of Quantum of Solace pitches environmentalists on an eco-park scheme called the Tierra project, while meanwhile he buys up or dams up all the water in Bolivia, eventually extorting an exclusive water rights contract from the dictator he put in charge. Just like Greene, Coca-Cola has aggravated the world’s water shortage, and just like Greene, Coca-Cola is reaping the financial rewards. And the company is so cocky that it advertises its sugar-water using a movie all about fighting a water-hoarding corporation. But no worries. You’ll drink it because Bond drinks it, right?Photo of Coca-Cola Zero ad by Coca-Cola. Photo of Dominic Greene by MGM.