Abstract: The Coca-Cola Company, Convenience Packaging, and the Limits of Corporate Environmental Stewardship in the 1970s

Bartow Elmore


My study explores the Coca-Cola Company's involvement in the pioneering of resource and environmental profile (or REPA) studies on soft drink containers in the 1960s and 1970s, studies that laid the foundation for contemporary life-cycle analysis (LCA) research. It begins with an examination of Coke's anti-litter campaign in the 1960s, the company's first real foray into the realm of environmental stewardship. I examine soft drink anti-litter advertising in the 1960s and 1970s, emphasizing its appeals to popular free market principles, and I then consider the contradictions between Coke's promotional rhetoric and its clandestine approach to life-cycle research. As I examine the details of beverage container REPA studies in the 1970s, I focus on Coke's limited translation of life-cycle findings to its customers. I conclude that, despite professing an allegiance to a classical liberal vision of a free market system driven by rational consumers, Coca-Cola actively withheld (and continues to withhold) critical information about its nonreturnable packaging from its customers, thus preventing consumers from making eco-conscious decisions about packaging alternatives.