CocaCola’s Carbon Sequestration Billboards


Promises are written all over America’s highways: a hot mug of coffee around the next bend, an enticing amusement park just minutes away. Offering a reprieve from endless miles of grey pavement and worn yellow rectangles, the billboards that line our streets entice dreary drivers with apparent solutions to everyday problems. Most sell purchasable items and experiences, but some signs sell ideas, bringing the promise of a clear conscience to people who adopt a certain set of principles. Merging these two concepts—that of the material object as well as the buyer’s morality—fosters the ultimate consumer sinkhole, a recipe of genius for companies meaning to draw in the largest consumer base possible.

Coca-Cola’s carbon-sequestering billboard is a classic example of using a person’s sense of morality to sell a product. The 60-by-60 foot sign is crafted out of 3,600 Fukien tea plants, with a blank silhouette of a glass soda bottle front and center. The words “This billboard absorbs air pollutants” are written in large white letters over the green plants (Nudd). It certainly demands attention, pounding Coca-Cola’s “green” image into the heads of potential soda consumers.

The idea is that the plants on the sign act as a carbon sink for the region surrounding the billboard—and to give Coca-Cola credit, the shrubs do their job. Since each Fukien tea plant can absorb 13 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, the whole structure sequesters around 46,800 pounds of this greenhouse gas annually—a respectable sounding number (Nudd).

In reality, though, how much environmental impact does this sign make? Planting a tree absorbs 48 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, meaning that an acre of forest can sequester around 1,700 to 2,000 pounds of carbon every year (Tree Facts). Driving a truck across the country to distribute cans of Coke emits hundreds of thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide, since these large vehicles receive around five miles to the gallon of diesel fuel, and each gallon of diesel that is burned produces about 22 pounds of carbon dioxide—effectively canceling out the impact of the handful of these billboards scattered around the country (Carbon Sequestration).

Coca-Cola is using a concept known as greenwashing, preying on the uninformed consumer in order to hand out false expectations of sustainability. By marketing its products and company values as environmentally friendly, Coke hopes to draw in the environmentally concerned consumer base—or the people who drive by the billboard and suddenly realize that the earth needs saving.

By informing the public about climate change, Coca-Cola’s advertisement actually has the potential to make some difference. At least it gets people thinking about their own actions. Still, though, does this company have a right to take advantage of environmental devastation by capitalizing on the extreme knowledge lapse surrounding climate change?

Perhaps some level of forgiveness must be offered to Coke for its use of greenwashing. If sustainability sells, it’s unreasonable to believe that a multimillion-dollar company, with its primary goal being to collect a profit, would fail to take advantage of this concept. However, the way in which Coca-Cola goes about exploiting the environmental message belittles the green movement as a whole. The billboard streamlines sustainability, making it seem like doing one’s part merely consists of planting some shrubs and buying a coke.

If the company were truly concerned with absorbing more carbon dioxide emissions, it might invest in alternative fuel sources and purchase crops from small scale growers, rather than mixing its marketing and its morals. Even the billboard itself would look different; instead of leaving a gaping white spot to advertise a soda bottle, the whole rectangle would be covered in plants.

Certainly, Coca-Cola’s billboard does not stand as the most extreme greenwashing instance possible, seeing as it does absorb some fossil fuels and spreads insight regarding the perils of climate change. However, if Coke truly wanted to make an impact, there are countless alternative, authentic ways to reach this objective. Coca-Cola crafted this ad for the money; a unique billboard is merely the byproduct.

Critique by Lanika Sanders

Nudd, Tim. “Coca-Cola’s Green Billboard Made of Plants That Absorb Air Pollution.” AdWeek. N.p., 27 June 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

“Tree Facts.” American Forests. 2014. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

“Carbon Sequestration.” Office of Sustainability. Tufts University, 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

CocaCola in the Philippines

The advertisement (commercial) I have chosen to critique is a Coca Cola commercial, which is sending the message of ‘living positively’ in the Philippines. It lasts about thirty seconds and essentially shows a Coca Cola truck helping the community and environment in a few ways (new refrigerators saving energy, cleaning up over 50km of the shoreline, reforesting watersheds around the country, thus bringing happiness overall). A little boy is used as the spokesperson promoting Coca Cola as an environmentally friendly product in a classroom showing his classmates all of the ways in which Coca Cola is great.

The commercial is defining the product in terms of the environment in that it brings joy and happiness to the community, as well as doing things proactively to help the environment by reforesting watersheds, cleaning up litter on the shore, and having new fridges that save energy. Green washing is present in this commercial in many ways, but particularly because it is misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of Coca Cola as a company. It uses nature as a backdrop to show the ‘positive’ impacts it is making toward the environment as well as green product attributes (new refrigerators to save energy) as tools to reel the consumer into this belief.

The claim that Coca Cola as a company or as a product is environmentally friendly is completely false. Soft drink production in general uses tons of water and leaves behind tons of waste. Recently, Coca Cola has indulged in conservation projects in water-stressed areas throughout the world, but fails to mention the cause of these stress-related areas of water (Hint: Coke is the reason). In addition, the plastics and metals that they use ultimately becomes waste and the notion that they are helping to clean the shorelines of the Philippines is hilarious because they are probably picking up their own products at the beach.

Not to mention, the truck in the commercial carrying all of these ‘environmentally friendly’ products is burning fossil fuels and ruining the environment as it is ‘helping’ it. Coca Cola’s headquarters is also in Georgia so the travel from air isn’t exactly helping either. The target audience for this advertisement is the community of the Philippines (all ages) and Coca Cola did a very good job in masking their greenwashing duties through the use of selective media with happy children who do not even know anything about the product, besides that it is sugary and tastes good. Using the nature in the background definitely added a punch to the viewer that it is a beautiful place when treated properly.

The product is produced in the United States (a developed country) and showing it in a developing country is rather funny because of the exploitation of the Philippine citizens who probably work in factories for Coca Cola, while the U.S. rakes in the money. In 2006, Coca Cola and its bottlers used 80 billion gallons of water to produce beverages- equal to 1/5 of the daily water usage in the U.S. Not to mention there has been several cases of developing countries’ citizens suffering from exploitation by working for Coca Cola and protests have been made, yet the Philippines should encourage the consumption of Coca Cola because it brings happiness? (Completely false)

I suppose this billion dollar industry needs even more support for its consumerism in countries that are directly affected by its production in the first place. The commercial encourages consumerism by promoting the product as environmentally friendly and bringing happiness to the community, yet it is completely contradictory and causing problems for the citizens (litter, waste, bad health choice, fossil fuels, exploitation of workers, etc.). The unreal amounts of plastic waste that Coke produces does not even begin to describe how much of a fallacy this commercial is and how the media can portray things to seem real. The campaign shows that the relationship between humans and non-humans is the essential element of greed and capitalism that humans possess and the environment suffers as a result. If Coca Cola did not expect to make money off of false advertising, then you really think they would care to falsely promote themselves as an environmentally friendly product?

Critique by Ian Anderson