“Coke goes green” announced Forbes: the paradigm shift required


My inbox contained an email from Grist this morning – as it does many other mornings.

And today, one of the feature articles concerning Coca-Cola struck me as such a clear example of why the complete paradigm shift to sustainability is necessary. Eco-efficiency and ‘trying to be green in most things’ just will not do!

In short, the story is that Coke execs and shareholders have just voted to continue to use BPA in the lining to its drink containers (at the most generous you have to say it is a contentious substance – and the critical you would say it causes all sorts of health issues to humans – including the young). The article goes on to suggest that the reason this is chosen is because “no commercially viable” alternative has be found yet.

I will not cover the facets of the argument covered in the Grist article – its well written and you can read it. It concludes by saying that “green capitalism” is a marketing campaign… and so it would seem in the case of Coca-Cola.

But let’s learn from this in other ways too. I continue to see “behaviour change” as the focus of attention in sustainability circles. It places the emphasis in the wrong place. Sure we want to see different decisions and behaviours, but these will result from different thinking. Again Coke’s decision shows how ineffectual legislation and ‘technical solutions’ are. (see my 5 minute video clip here for what this means)

What is the thinking or the assumptions underlying the decision that seems to place profit before human lives and health?

If you asked each of these people would they offer their children a drink they know includes poison I am sure they would say ‘no’. So what gives?? And these are not ‘bad’ people – they are probably all ‘nice, pleasant folk’ just like me 🙂

My thoughts:
1. These people have not realised the inter-connectedness of everything yet… they only think direct cause and effect (Newtonian paradigm). If a company the size of Coca-Cola decided to ‘just do this’, I am sure their suppliers would come up with some innovative answers pretty damn quick. The size of Coca-cola would shift something.

2. Long term, who wants to be associated with a company that goes down the same path as cigarette companies? Couldn’t Coke learn from this – the end of this business model is nigh because it is the wrong thing to do! It seems large organisations with winning past business models have to go to the wall like GM did a few years ago, to respond and transform themselves. Will GM make less money because they are now making cars that lessen reliance on oil? No – their long term viability is enhanced!

3. This action is another example of ‘management’ (even if we call them leaders they are not) winning over ‘leadership’. Management with a focus on perfecting the existing business model and system does not have the imagination to ‘see’ anything more exciting and better. This requires leadership (you knew I would get back here – right?) to help people imagine an even better future and then bring it into the present.

4. This is also about personal mastery – a foundation of leadership. How do we stay alive to our own thinking and reflect daily upon how our existing thinking habits may need to adapt? This is very challenging. It is so much easier to race on in our frenetically busy lives and respond like we are on autopilot. We need … the execs at Coke need … to slow down and reflect. Ask questions like…

  • What are the long term implications of this decision?
  • What if I am wrong? (I know execs are paid to be right….)
  • How defensive am I being in my thinking? Am I just justifying previous decisions and loyalties?

Real, courageous leaders would be open to these thoughts.

I keep saying, sustainability is not a problem that is ‘out there’ …. it is ‘in here’. The inner work of sustainability is the most crucial and most overlooked aspect of sustainability work. It is the starting place and it is the foundation for innovation for us to develop the solutions to become sustainable again. Not an end point or destination – a way of thinking and being that recognises the interconnectedness of everything over time.