Coca-Cola is making sustainability a priority

The iconic global brand is placing sustainability at the core of its business; despite the pandemic.

With a focus to make a positive impact on people’s lives, communities and the planet through water replenishment, packaging recycling, sustainable sourcing practices, and carbon emission reductions across its value chain, Coca-Cola is set to expand on its mission in 2021. As businesses the world over reset and gear up for a post-pandemic phase, Coca-Cola Beverages Sri Lanka is forging ahead with optimism and plans in place for a new normal. Mayank Arora, Managing Director of Coca-Cola Beverages Sri Lanka Ltd. (CCBSL) talks about how the company realigned strategy to push through the Covid-19 pandemic, and how its mission to give back is deeply aligned with its business goals.

Coca-Cola is probably the most iconic global brand. Can you tell us about Coca-Cola’s journey in Sri Lanka?

Coca-Cola has been refreshing Sri Lankans for nearly 60 years, crafting the brands and choice of beverages that people love. Along with big global brands such as Coca-Cola, Sprite and Fanta, our Sri Lankan brands such as Portello have been in the country for six decades and remain local favourites. To serve our consumers better, we are now providing more convenient and affordable packages, and introducing new lower and zero-sugar drinks such as Coke Zero and Sprite Zero. Coca-Cola supports the economic wheel of over 80,000 traders and also provides direct and indirect employment for over 7,000 people in Sri Lanka, contributing to economic growth within local communities.

How important are sustainability, the environment, and giving back to the community to Coca-Cola in a global context?

Sustainability and ‘Giving Back’ is in-built in Coca-Cola’s purpose to “Refresh the World and Make a Difference” in people’s lives, communities, and the planet by doing business the right way, and working together to create a better shared future. Coca-Cola’s three global sustainability pillars include: (1) A World Without Waste – Make packaging a circular economy – with the goal to “Collect and Recycle a bottle or can for every – one it sells by 2030”. (2) Water Stewardship – become “Water Neutral” and return a 100% of the water used for the production of its beverages to local communities and nature, through its local water initiatives. (3) Well-being of local communities – including economically empowering 5 million women entrepreneurs globally by 2020 (5y20). Our sustainability initiatives intend to contribute to Coca-Cola’s global goal to reduce total carbon emissions across the entire value chain by 25% by 2030, helping the business and communities we serve adapt to the realities of climate change.

How has 2020 been for Coca-Cola Sri Lanka, and how did you respond to the Covid-19 challenge?

As Sri Lanka grappled with Covid-19 and businesses feared the worst, Coca-Cola Beverages Sri Lanka swiftly adapted to the changing situation. Our priority was the health, safety, and job security of our employees and partners. We were able to ride the first wave of the pandemic in Sri Lanka with zero job losses, no reduction in salaries, and even announced annual increments and incentives. We did so by carefully analyzing our costs and cutting back on non-essential expenditure while maximising operational efficiency. From the outset, we demonstrated a unified and clear vision to combat the crisis and maintained regular communication with our employees on prioritizing safety and health. To ensure distribution efficiency, our teams from all functions of the company extended their fullest support to customers, while ensuring all health and safety measures were in place. Teams coordinated effectively to ensure close credit monitoring, and helping customers to manage their working capital during a time when businesses were grappling with cash flow challenges.

Handover of PCR Test Kits and VTMs by Coca-Cola to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa

Refreshing Sri Lanka is our priority, so we continued to re-invent ourselves during the pandemic by leveraging technology. Coca-Cola partnered with both pure players, bricks & clicks and food aggregators to leverage the benefits of the e-commerce space. As a result, we increased our online sales presence from three sites prior to Covid-19, to nineteen after the pandemic hit. In addition, an in-house home delivery team was put together to cater to the Western Province, the country’s main commercial hub. We succeeded in getting all our distribution channels operational by June although most restaurants and food outlets were still closed. Alongside business activities, the Coca-Cola system in Sri Lanka pledged Rs130 million to support communities that were affected by the pandemic through the donation of 16,800 PCR test kits and 17,000 VTMs. We also provided essential packs consisting food, sanitary items, first aid and Coca-Cola beverages to 6,175 marginalized families, while also partnering with NGOs to complement their essential packs with beverage donations. All these initiatives were conducted together with our implementing partner Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, that also undertook Coca-Cola’s disinfection program in Gampaha during the second wave of COVID-19.

Tell us about your sustainability initiatives during the year?

Despite the pandemic, we continued to effectively implement our signature waste management programme, ‘Give Back Life’, contributing to the global Coca-Cola ‘World Without Waste’ goal. We are committed to collecting high volumes of PET plastic bottles for recycling from across the nation. To date, we have collected over 15 million PET bottles and formed 93 partnerships to create a network that includes the private sector, government, civil society, Eco-Spindles Pvt. Ltd. (an end-toend recycler), local waste collectors and many other stakeholders. Over 310 PET collection bins have been installed at strategic locations across 17 districts and 8 provinces. During the year, we initiated the first mega PET collection program in 40 major temples, and installed 17 large scale 5,000kg capacity collection huts across harbours in Sri Lanka to collect PET taken out to sea by the fisher community, thereby preventing marine pollution.

2020 was a monumental year for us because we surpassed Coca-Cola’s global goal of Water Replenishment, becoming the first in South West Asia to be water positive through the rehabilitation of three ancient water reservoirs in Anuradhapura and Monaragala. CCBSL achieved 203% water positivity, which meant that for every liter of water used for the production of our beverages, we give 2 liters back to our communities and ecosystems. The projects will economically empower these communities as it will effectively enable them to cultivate all year-round and enhance agricultural income potential. This year, Coca-Cola was also able to reap the positive benefits of an investment of Rs. 235 million to implement one of the top 3 single location rooftop solar projects in Sri Lanka! Covering 80% of the roof area at our Biyagama plant, the project has an annual generation of 2,733MW/h of renewable electricity, a reduction of carbon emissions by 1.9MT, and a cost saving of Rs.45 million.

Rehabilitation of the Samurdhi tank in Monaragala, supporting
over 400 households in the rural farming community
Large scale 5000Kg PET Plastic Collection Hut at the Negombo Harbour
Donation of Packs with Food, Sanitary Items and First Aid to 6000+ vulnerable
communities during the COVID-19 outbreak

Looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, what are your plans for sustainability and CSR, and why are they important from a business strategy perspective?

CCBSL, in line with its global CocaCola sustainability strategy will continue investing and collaborating with partners to meet goals and bring about solutions in waste management, women empowerment, water stewardship, and the well-being of local communities. These are not isolated, ‘feel good’ initiatives undertaken by the company, instead they are necessities for the company’s continuous strategic sustainable growth. CocaCola’s business goals are tied hand in hand with social and environmental goals at the highest level.

We intend to be a part of the solution, and not the problem of plastic pollution, by supporting the plastic collection infrastructure in the country and creating awareness that PET plastic is not waste, but value, as it is 100% recyclable and should not end up irresponsibly discarded in the environment. This in turn contributes to a circular economy, increases export earnings as the recycled products are exported to several countries and expands livelihood opportunities for local waste collectors. Coca-Cola will continue its water projects in the coming years, as water is a key ingredient in beverages and is central to the long-term success of the business and the health of communities. Coca-Cola holds a strong belief that it has a responsibility to respect and protect water resources. We will also continue our women empowerment programs and continue to support local communities at all times, especially in times they need us the most.