Monday, January 11, 2010

Pepsi's LEED Gold Manufacturing Facility: Oxymoronic or Revolutionary?

It was announced late last year that Pepsi-Co Frito-Lay became the first food manufacturing site to be awarded LEED gold certification in the US. LEED, of course, stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is meant to provide a green building rating system based on design criteria that have implications for energy use, waste, recycling, impact on surrounding ecosystems, among other things. Pepsi was granted this certification for their manufacturing facility in Arizona.

While this is a great accomplishment for a large MNC like Pepsi, I can't help but feel uneasy about the oxymoronic nature of this initiative. Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, and many other processed food companies are heavily crticized for the health-damaging effects of their food products. These same companies recently backed off a "Smart Choices" program that faced substantial criticism because it used laxed criteria, developed by these companies, to certify processed foods as healthy. New York City recently launched an advertising blitz to educate citizens about the negative health effects of drinking soda - akin to drinking fat. Take a look at this:

But I guess this is okay so long as the buildings Pepsi is using to make these food/drink products are energy efficient, minimizes waste and recycles. Okay, at least they're doing something, but is anyone seeing the irony here? Is this a marketing attempt to overshadow the negative implications of a majority of their food products?

Few companies have been able to see the interconnectedness of their actions. While Pepsi may be building green buildings, their core operations, the effects of which are much more systemic in nature, typically offset these green benefits 100 fold when we consider things like the energy intensive processes associated with wet milling (the process by which natural food is turned into processed food), the overwhelming amount of nitrogen and pesticides used to supply the corn and soy used for their products that eventually make their way into water streams and are considered to be the main cause of oceanic dead zones. This is not to mention the health-related impacts of their products which, if we consider social and ecological systems to be interconnected, cannot be overlooked.

I sympathize with companies because deep down i think that many of them are trying to do the right thing. But the question is whether managers will step up to the plate and begin to examine their core operations closely; their bread and butter, and to move away from the more trivial and isolated initiatives to adopt sustainability in their business.

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