An eye-opening account of the “unmatched ecological appetite” behind Coca-Cola’s worldwide success.
In this deeply informed debut, Elmore (History/Univ. of Alabama) details the outsourcing strategy that he calls “Coca-Cola Capitalism,” which has allowed Coke to become the world’s top brand, with operations in more than 200 countries, at a huge cost to the environment and human health. Acknowledging the company’s marketing genius, Elmore claims that Coke’s real secret formula has been to rely on other people’s time and money, often using public infrastructure to extract raw materials and transport finished products. The strategy—first developed by mass marketers at the turn of the 20th century and later imitated by McDonald’s, large software firms and other corporations—eliminates upfront costs and risky investments. Since its founding in 1886, Coke has relied on partnerships for the sugar, caffeine, water, cans and bottles, and other raw materials needed to create its beverages (now selling more than 1.8 billion servings per day). Drawing on archival sources, the author devotes chapters to the ecological impact of each key Coke ingredient. At little cost, the company uses 79 billion gallons of public water supplies yearly to dilute Coke syrup and an estimated 8 trillion gallons to produce bottles and agricultural commodities. The company also has bottling operations in many arid world regions. Elmore describes how Coke has weathered supply disruptions and controversies regarding caffeine and sugar obtained from others and how its huge success during World War II paved the way for overseas expansion. In recent years, the company’s sugary beverages have been a major factor in the worldwide obesity epidemic. Without a doubt, Coke has been a good public citizen that stimulates economies and improves lives, writes the author, but the costs to taxpayers—for recycling systems, public pipes and subsidized farms—and the environment call into question how such unsustainable practices can continue in an age of scarcity.
A superb, quietly devastating environmental and business history.