Oh, Coke. You’re trying so hard.
This billboard is Coke’s attempt to do the right thing and remove some pollution from the air. It’s made of plants, you see, so it will absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful things, giving the citizens of the Philippines cleaner air to breathe.
Here’s the thing, Coke. You don’t save the planet by putting up billboards. On the original GOOD post where I saw this, an astute commenter did some math based on data from Coke’s own website. People buy 1.6 billion bottles and cans of Coke per day. According to this commenter, each bottle has a production footprint of 0.5 lbs CO2, which doesn’t count distribution. Meanwhile, this billboard can absorb 46,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, which is less than one day’s worth of Coke’s carbon footprint from production alone. To offset their production footprint, they would need 5.8 million billboards.
I haven’t checked this guy’s math, and I’m not going to because it doesn’t matter. The numbers on the billboard’s own absorption are from Coke, and even if my anonymous commenter is completely overstating the carbon footprint of making a Coke bottle, the underlying point is still completely valid. Sexy green billboards aren’t going to save the world. They’re not going to make a dent. They’re absolutely useless when it comes to actually changing anything.
Which would all be fine, except for the fact that Coke is using this to play up their green street cred. So in case anyone thinks for a moment that Coca-Cola is a company which cares about people or the planet, I’d like to set the record straight. Coke has been repeatedly accused of taking over water supplies in developing countries, particularly India, and pumping them dry, leaving local people with no access to water. In 2001, Coke’s bottler in Colombia was accused of hiring paramilitary death squads to intimidate, torture and kill union leaders and organizers at their plant (these accusations were verified by an independent, US-based research team). Similar accusations have surfaced more recently in Guatemala.
Even without the water rights and death squads, there’s a more mundane problem with Coke. Their product is sold in disposable containers, which are sometimes re-used (glass bottles in many developing countries) or recycled (in developed countries), but often thrown away. Growing the corn needed to make Coke is incredibly environmentally destructive and pesticide-intensive. The life cycle of a Coke beverage, from cradle to grave, releases tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, creates a large amount of waste and contributes seriously to poor health, diabetes and obesity. As far as I can tell, the only benefit of the entire company appears to be that it provides jobs to people (no word on how well those jobs pay) and a lot of money to a very select few.
Coke is not a green company, and it never has been. There is no amount of “offsetting” Coke can do that will make up for the environmental damage it’s caused. If Coke is truly concerned about the health of our planet, the best thing they could do would be to go out of business.
I’m headed home from Ghana at the end of this week, so I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned during my five weeks here:
1. Riding three on the back of a motorcycle is easier than it sounds, but still challenging while wearing a skirt and waving gracefully at the hordes of children yelling Obruni! (white person) at you. Especially if you’re trying not to flash anyone.
2. Ghanaians use the word “nice” where Americans would use the word “good”, which can lead to disconcerting sentences such as “Silence of the Lambs was a very nice movie.”
3. It is possible to train yourself to eat spicy foods. It is also possible to train yourself to be cool with high levels of bacteria. If you’re ever trying to do this, expired raw milk and homemade kombucha (tea fermented with a bacteria/yeast colony) are definitely the way to go, and you should just ignore your parents and friends who are telling you that you’re going to make yourself sick. A few mild stomachaches in the US is totally worth five weeks in Ghana without a serious intestinal meltdown.
4. It’s really, really awesome to live in a country where high-fructose corn syrup is basically nonexistent.
5. Living without water while camping or on Semester in the West is an adventure. Living without water for a day because Seattle has to repair something is easy. Living somewhere where water goes out constantly, unexpectedly, without warning, for weeks at a time eats up tons of would-be productive time that has to be spent installing backup tanks, hauling jugs of water from place to place and basically constructing your own water infrastructure on top of the one the city already has.
6. Naming your business “God’s Time is the Best General Goods” might be a bold, distinguishing move in the US, but in Ghana, there are like three of those on every block. If you want to really stand out, you have to go for something a bit more dramatic, like “Our Lord is a Consuming Fire Enterprises”.
7. Balls of pulverized cassava (fufu) are a somewhat forgettable culinary experience, but balls of fermented maize (banku and kenkey) are actually pretty good. In related news, fermenting anything usually makes it awesome (sourdough, kombucha, yogurt, etc).
8. Wearing seat belts is always a good idea, even if you’re the only person in the entire tro tro doing it and everyone else is giving you strange looks. However, you may find yourself at some point riding in a speeding van with all metal surfaces on the interior, through which you can see the road below you. This van will naturally lack any seat belts. If this happens, you should probably just view it as a cultural experience and try not to panic every time the van swerves sharply to avoid a pothole/goat/woman carrying eggs on her head/chicken/other vehicle/homemade speed bump in the middle of the road.
9. No matter how cool you think bright orange and blue lizards are the first time you see one, you will be completely over them after a month. Especially once you realize that they are adept at crawling under doors and through cracks in your walls, and that they are also fond of pooping on your living room floor.
10. In spite of my many, many problems with the American government, there’s something about going to a former slave fort on the Ghanaian coast and seeing a plaque proclaiming that President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visited the site in 2009 that made me so grateful to have the current administration running things in Washington.