By Zsarlene B. Chua

COCA-COLA’S long and storied past in the Philippines started 107 years ago when it opened its first soda fountain business in Escolta, Manila, then the country’s premier financial district. Its rich history in the country meant taking care of the community it serves, thus inspiring the company’s backbone of ambitious initiatives in water management, achieving a waste-free world, and empowering women and communities.

Jonah de Lumen-Pernia, public affairs and communications director of Coca-Cola Philippines, said the company had been involved in sustainability efforts in the past years, guided by its aim of “replenishing every single drop of water that we use in the production of our beverages.”

The company initially aimed to achieve 100% water replenishment by 2020, but as of this year, it has managed to replenish 124% of the water is used “not only inside the product but also in the production,” Ms. de Lumen-Pernia said in a recent interview.

It managed to do so via the Agos Project, which as of 2018 helped 210 water-poor communities and about 215,000 Filipinos by providing them with a mechanical device that pumps water to reach an elevation higher than the original source without using electricity or any power source.

Communities without easy access to clean water ram pumps are able to use the saved water for drinking or to irrigate their farms. Some of the communities that benefited from the project are in Sagada, Mountain Province and Porac, Pampanga.

Aside from replenishing the water used in production and in beverages, the company also aims to reduce the amount of water used in producing a liter of beverage to 1.5 liters by 2020 from 2.62 liters.

In the Philippines, the company has managed to bring down its water use efficiency ratio to 2 liters in 2018 from 2.75 liters in 2014. The reduction helped it save more than 5.27 million liters of water, a company handout shows.

It managed to do so by optimizing production processes and maximizing the use of water in production, including using more effective cleaning agents and by recovering, refiltering and re-using water in maintenance tanks.

In 2018, the Coca-Cola Co. unveiled an ambitious project to “collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle and can it sells globally by 2030.” In the Philippines, it planned to do so by investing in a P1-billion recycling facility that can process 16,000 metric tons of plastic waste starting in 2020.

Ms. de Lumen-Pernia said the company is coming up with a shortlist of sites where the facility will be built. The facility will process the plastic waste and turn it into plastic bottles, textile, benches, and other materials.

Beyond plastic packaging, 50% of the company’s beverages available in the Philippines are still in glass containers, which help with its sustainability efforts, she said.

“For our plastics, we are also reducing the weight of our packaging, so 70% of the weight has been taken off our plastic packaging in the last three years,” she said.

Of the 19 brands the company distributes in the Philippines, its Viva bottled water is the first one to be made from 100% recycled plastic. The same packaging will also be introduced to the other water brands, Ms. de Lumen-Pernia said.

Coca-Cola Philippines is trying to partner with junk shops, sari-sari stores, and its consumers in order to collect plastic bottles, including plastic packaging from other brands, she said.

“What’s good now is whether you’re [a small or a big company] as long as you’re contributing to recycling I think it’s a good thing [and whether] we start now, we start then, we start in the future, at least we’re starting,” she said.

“I think [what’s important is the] awareness for companies like us, the bigger ones who obviously have a bigger footprint gets to commit to it and have started it and — along with other industry partners — are really trying to make it happen,” she added.

The company is also working towards its goal of empowering five million women by 2020, globally.

In the Philippines, Coca-Cola has reached 154,000 women in 2018 and is targeting to reach 25,000 women this year to reach its 200,000 goal, Ms. de Lumen-Pernia said.

She said the “biggest footprint of women is in the sari-sari stores,” where about 90% of owners are women, many of them uneducated and lacking in business skills.

Sari-sari stores are an important part of our value chain because essentially, they are the hands that extend our product to the consumers and most of the operators are women,”said Joy Munsayac-Cacal, communications, sustainability and gender and development lead at Coca-Cola Philippines.

To help these women run their businesses better, the company developed a training program with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Women’s Center.

“The modules go beyond empowering them as an entrepreneur — we actually build their confidence so they can do more with their businesses,” she said.

The training program consists of 12 sessions and is held for half a day every Saturday. It teaches proprietors how to manage their businesses by properly keeping records and by helping them with their capital by partnering with microfinance organizations after completing the program.