Kathryn Casson, Director of Public Affairs, Communications, and Sustainability for Coca-Cola MENA, speaks to AMEInfo on the need to move from being socially responsible to being socially impactful:
Why has sustainability become an important component for brands such as Coca-Cola?
“Since its origins, The Coca-Cola Company has understood itself to be integral to the communities and environments in which it operates. Sustainability is therefore not a new focus for Coca-Cola.
But today, as a global brand, we understand more than ever our responsibility and our ability to lead by example.”
“We have ambitious goals for the company on plastic recycling (our World Without Waste agenda), water stewardship, women’s empowerment, sugar reduction – issues that matter to people.
Healthy communities mean healthy businesses, so it’s a win-win. And crucially, consumers increasingly care and will pay more for brands that embody a “purpose” that they can connect with or believe in.”
Could you share some recent examples of your most impactful sustainability initiatives in the MENA region?
“Yes, water and young people.
Coca-Cola is committed to rigorous standards of stewardship of the water we use.
Way back in 2007, the Company set itself the ambitious target of returning or ‘replenishing’ to communities and nature 100% of the water contained in our final products, as well as reducing over time the water used in our production process.
For the first time this year, we are confident that the Company will achieve the target of 100% replenishment in the Middle East, North Africa, and Pakistan.
Since the MENA region is one of the most water-scarce on earth, this will be a significant milestone.
We have done this through a portfolio of community projects that give people access to safe water, or provide water for agricultural use, or that conserve fragile watersheds.”
“For example, in Egypt, we have connected more than 65,000 people to clean water, and in Morocco, we have helped rehabilitate an oasis that had been desertified so that the community has been able to return to the land they had left and made it productive again.
In MENA, Coca-Cola also created and ran for six years the MENA Scholarship program, in partnership with the US State Department.
Each year we selected around 100 talented young entrepreneurs from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Gaza, West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, and in 2017 from Saudi Arabia, and funded them to spend a month at the Kelly School of Business in Indiana undergoing a rigorous program of business training.
They were chosen because they had a great business idea that would make their country better. Many of them would say the program was life-changing for them and more than 100 businesses have been set up by the alumni following their participation in the program.
This program was a big financial investment for Coca-Cola but signals our understanding of and commitment to be relevant in a region with sky-rocketing youth population and unemployment.”
Are these initiatives part of your long-term marketing strategies, or have become an immediate issue in Coca-Cola’s businesses?
The scale of our targets for sustainability – whether empowering 5 million women by 2020, replenishing 100 per cent of the water we use across our global sales volume by 2020 or the recently announced “World Without Waste” packaging vision, which commits us to collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell globally by 2030 – are big enough that they simultaneously make a real contribution to tackling social and environmental challenges, but also make powerful statements about our “purpose” as a Company and the identity of our brands, and so can shape marketing too.”
“In North America, the Coca-Cola Renew campaign showed how the best marketing doesn’t see a distinction between CSR and marketing, but creatively brings the story of what we do in society and the environment – our “purpose” together with marketing strategy.”
Does it mean brands, including Coca-Cola, are moving from being socially responsible to being socially impactful?
“The two go hand in hand.
Traditional CSR is giving way to more innovative thinking about how to achieve the change we want to see (such as less plastic waste or marine litter), by embedding new practices (like more recyclable materials, better collection and recycling processes) into the core business operation.”
Does it also mean CSR is now getting redefined?
“Being responsible or CSR is the minimum.
Consumers in some markets have diminishing tolerance for businesses that cause social or environmental harm.
For example, on issues like plastic waste, they are increasingly demanding ever-higher levels of leadership from big companies.
The Coca-Cola Company understands we have the opportunity and an obligation to use the power of our business and our brands to achieve positive change.”
What’s the next step after brands have learned the value of sustainability and doing “good”?
“I think many brands are still catching on. The next step is probably that no one will talk about CSR anymore, or think it is innovative of a brand to take a stance on a social, cultural or environmental issue.
It will just be the norm.
Companies that cling to the distinction between profit and doing good as if they are alternatives, will be the minority, especially in countries where consumers have access to data and use it to demand accountability of businesses. In less free societies this may perhaps take longer.”
Are Coca-Cola’s sustainability initiatives in the MENA region the extended versions of the global CSR strategy or customized solutions of what the communities require?
“Coca-Cola is a global business that operates on a local scale.
We are able to achieve global reach while maintaining local focus because of the strength of the Coca-Cola system, which comprises our Company and our many bottling partners across the globe.
The Coca-Cola Company has overarching 2020 Sustainability Goals, including 100% water Replenishment, World Without Waste, and 5by20 (women’s empowerment).
The whole Company is committed to driving progress towards these ambitious goals, and these are also our top sustainability priorities in MENA.
But we supplement the global framework with additional effort on issues that are locally relevant in MENA.”
“For example, our MENA Scholarship program is not a global mandate but something we created in MENA because of the prevalence of youth unemployment and untapped youth potential.
Other examples of localization are in Pakistan where we have a project with the Rotary Foundation to support polio elimination as well as some education initiatives that matter to local communities where we operate.
Another case is humanitarian crises, where we always try to play our part – for example, Coca-Cola contributed $1.2 million in 2017 to famine relief in the African Sahel and Yemen.”