Coke and Water: Do the Conservationists Know What they are Talking About?

Coca-Cola is in trouble for the way they use water. The problems arose from some initial accusations that were untrue.

Coca-Cola has also been targeted by activists, but over the issue of water rather than energy. The firm has been hit hardest in India. First, experts from Delhi's Centre for Science and Environment, a green think-tank, tested various soft drinks and determined that they contained high levels of pesticide. It turned out that Coca-Cola was not the cause of the problem. But its inept handling of the accusations left the firm exposed to a much more damaging allegation: that it is aggravating the growing global problem of fresh-water scarcity. An ongoing controversy in India concerns allegations that some of the firm's bottling plants use too much water in drought-prone areas, thus leaving poor local villagers with too little. Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Centre, a Californian non-governmental group, has been using the Indian controversies to stoke an international grass-roots campaign against Coca-Cola.

I'm all for conserving water and the environment and everything else, but sometimes I wonder if the environmentalists understand business.

Company officials argue that they started measuring and improving their use of water long before its troubles in India. The firm improved its water efficiency by 6% between 2003 and 2004. In 2002, it took 3.12 litres of water to produce one litre of final product (as much water is used to clean the assembly lines, flush out glass bottles, and so on). In 2004, that global average came down to 2.72 litres. Mr Srivastava is not impressed: he grouses that it is "ridiculous that a firm that calls itself a 'hydration company' should waste so much water; most of it does not even end up in the product."

Why does Mr. Srivastava know how much water Coca Cola should use? Has he analyzed their production methods? Any manager with half a brain can tell you that they always want to be more productive, do more with less, and ____________ (fill in your own cost cutting buzzwords). If Srivastava knows how to do it, I'm sure Cocal Cola would hire him as a consultant to teach them. Otherwise, he shouldn't say their water usage is ridiculous.

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