Friday, March 16, 2007

Drinking Problems


For about nine years I’ve followed Coca-Cola—not as a soft-drink purveyor, but as a nation-builder and one of the few corporations with a truly distant planning horizon. This long-term view is one of the reasons why the company thrives; like Toyota, it can afford to invest heavily in projects that may not bear fruit for decades.

The Wall Street Journal nicely bears out my interest with yesterday’s “Why Coke Aims to Slake Global Thirst for Safe Water” (sorry, no direct URL):

Hoping to restore some of the goodwill that made its flagship product a global icon, Coca-Cola Co. has gone on a clean-water kick in the developing world.

In Kenya, where more than half of the rural population has no access to clean water, the Atlanta beverage giant brought water-purification systems, storage urns, and hygiene lessons to 45 school in a poor western province. Children learn how to use a chlorine-based solution to kill diseases that come from contaminated, muddy pools or remote wells—and are taught to teach their parents.

In Mali, Coke is helping extend municipal water taps beyond the country’s capital of Bamako. In India, where the company has been accused of draining water from poor communities for its own use, the company is building rainwater-harvesting structures to help alleviate chronic water shortages. Coke’s bottlers are also implementing water-efficiency measures.

And so on. This is the definition of enlightened self-interest by a company that isn’t concerned about selling you soda—you were sold (or not) by the time you were 10. They’re concerned about selling to your kids’ kids.

Happily for consumers in Coke countries, that means making sure the current generation survives to have children in the first place.

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