Positive Partnerships: Coca-Cola and Sustainabity

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During these past few weeks, I’ve been in and out of meetings with potential partners. One of the first questions they always ask is “Who’s your ideal client?” to which I usually reply “Anyone that wants to make a positive difference in the environment.” This is when we start getting into details, and the inevitable question comes up: “So, would you work with a big consumer company such as, say, Coca-Cola?” My answer is always a resounding “Yes.”

Some of our readers might take this the wrong way. “How can you stand for sustainability and then work with the bad guys?” Our stand has always been that, if we truly want to change our ways as a society, we need to engage corporations – the Coca-Colas, Nikes, HPs, UPS’s of the world. These global brands are accountable for much of the impact we have on the environment, and ignoring the pink elephant in the room just won’t do.

I will assume – for now – that you do agree with us (expect a future post on the pros and cons of our attitude).

So, if you work for the not-so-bad guys, how do you help the environment AND leverage your brand’s goodwill?

Last month at Sustainable Brands ‘10, I attended a CSR session presented by Linda Rogers from Coca-Cola, Susan McPherson from PRNewswire and Bpeace, Lea Jepson from Wal-Mart and Maureen Isern from Moped Productions on cause marketing. The session was an eye-opener, and I was particularly interested on what Coca-Cola had to say (especially after the India incident).

Coca-Cola lives its “Live positively” motto across every department within the company, and its CSR initiatives couldn’t be more aligned with it. Coke’s booklet Positive Partnerships: A Guide for Building Brand – Nonprofit Partnerships outlines a simple three-step process to develop a successful nonprofit partnership:

1. Decide on type of partnership.
While most people will immediately think of cause marketing campaigns or employee volunteer programs, there are many forms a brand-nonprofit partnership can take. These include:

- Cause Marketing (link your brand to an issue or cause)
- Sponsorship (sponsor an event by providing financial resources or donating in-kind goods)
- Certification (ideal if your brand or product complies with certain established standards, such as the Fair Trade certification)
- Grant Making (corporate giving program or company-established foundation makes a philanthropic contribution to support a nonprofit)
- Licensing (attach the nonprofit’s name to a product, or use its information/knowledge for a fee)
- Message Promotion (promote a public service announcement)
- Employee Involvement (such as employee volunteer programs, corporate giving programs, employee-driven contribution models, matching gifts and so on)
- Operations / Social Enterprise (work with a nonprofit to improve the company’s core operations).

2. Select an appropriate nonprofit partner.
This is a critical step to ensure authenticity and an emotional response from your clients. With the wide array of nonprofits and various causes, how to you choose an organization that is relevant for your stakeholders and business strategy?

There are several key criteria you should consider when identifying a partner:

- Connection to the brand (is there a natural connection? Shared values? Similar target demographic?)
- Existing Partner (partnerships tend to take time to develop. Sometimes, working with an existing partner saves time, money and frustration)
- Nonprofit Brand Equity (a known nonprofit will go a long way to ensure understanding and appreciation from your clients)
- Implementation Capability (double-check if the nonprofit actually delivers on their promises)
- Administrative / Fiduciary (ascertain if the nonprofit has the systems in place to meet reporting requirements)
- Assets (membership base, marketing materials and access to key influencers are assets that can be leveraged).

3. Identify a specific project.
Once you’ve identified the type of partnership you want to pursue and you’ve selected a partner, you will need to identify a specific project. Similarly when choosing a partner, you will want to support a project that is aligned with your business and fulfills your long-term goals.

Some of the key criteria you will want to consider when selecting a project:

- Identifiable (can the project be easily identified and communicated about?)
- Meaningful (does the project support the issues in an authentic and sustainable way?)
- Reinforce Focus (does it help you drive authentic trust in this work?)
- Linkage to Brand (can it be potentially a branded, iconic and memorable program?)
- Participatory & Inspiring (can your clients, partners and employees participate?)

The Bottom Line

Successful brand-nonprofit partnerships don’t get built overnight. You need to identify your CSR goals and sustainability strategy before engaging a nonprofit.

You can follow Coke’s example:
“Live positively is our commitment to redesigning the way we work and live so that sustainability is part of everything we do. Forever.”

Coca-Cola’s commitments will give you an idea on where to start:

”Water Stewardship
Our goal is to return to communities and nature an amount of water equal to what we use in our beverages and their production.

Packaging
Our goal is to advance a packaging framework in which our packaging is no longer seen as waste, but as a valuable resource for future use.

Climate
Our goal is to grow the business, not the carbon in our manufacturing operations. Improve the energy efficiency and reduce emission of greenhouse gases in cold drink equipment.

Workplace
We foster open environments, as diverse as the markets we serve, where workplace rights are respected and people are inspired to be the best they can be.

Community
We are a global company with local roots in every community where we do business. We are committed to the needs of our communities with wide ranging programs.

Beverage Benefits
Our goal is to quench every thirst and every need. Provide and tailor beverages for every lifestyle, life stage and occasion based on individual needs. Offer quality products you can trust all the time.

Active Living
Our goal is to help people lead active, healthy lives by offering a wide variety of beverages, our focus on information and education, and our support of physical activity.”

How about you? What are your commitments? Do you have any nonprofit partnership stories you’d like to share?

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