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Coca-Cola - Empowering consumers to cut their own environmental impact

Coca-Cola teams up with the Carbon Trust to establish how consumers can be empowered to cut their personal environmental impact.

Shopping trolley - consumer carbon footprint

This ground-breaking project tested whether providing environmental information to consumers can help encourage sustainable consumption habits. The results of the work are available in the Personal Carbon Allowances White Paper. The conclusions and recommendations from our work indicate:

  • Context is critical - Providing the environmental context for typical consumer lifestyle choices can help inform their decision making process.
  • Behaviour change is a challenge - The intense emotional attachment to certain (high carbon) lifestyle choices are difficult to change. In order to influence change, brands need to stress the secondary or tertiary direct benefits to consumers' health, wealth and quality of life.
  • Simple measures can add up - Brands have a clear role to play to help motivate consumers to make changes by illustrating that event small changes when combined contribute to a significant impact.

Convincing people to change their daily habits - in terms of the food and drink they consume, and the travel and leisure activities - is an emotive issue.  For a more sustainable world to be created, however, consumers - as well as big business - must alter their day-to-day behaviour to cut carbon emissions.

About the Coca-Cola Company

The Coca-Cola Company is the world's largest beverage company, refreshing consumers with more than 500 sparkling and still brands. Led by Coca-Cola, the most valuable brand in the world, its product portfolio features 15, billion dollar brands including Diet Coke, Fanta, Sprite, Coca-Cola Zero, vitaminwater, Powerade, Minute Maid, Simply, Georgia and Del Valle. Globally, it is the No. 1 provider of sparkling beverages, ready-to-drink coffees, and juices and juice drinks. Through the world's largest beverage distribution system, consumers in more than 200 countries consume its drinks at a rate of 1.8 billion servings a day. Together with its bottling partners - including Coca-Cola European Partners - it ranks among the top 10 private employers in the world.


Icons like Coca-Cola - the worlds' most valuable brand and leading provider of bottled drinks - have the power to galvanise consumers into action and trigger meaningful shifts in behaviour. For a challenge of this magnitude and complexity to be tackled effectively, the strategic input, thought-leadership skills and resources of a recognised expert in carbon reduction issues and solutions were required. 

That's why the Coca-Cola Company chose to work with the Carbon Trust; a global authority in carbon reduction management and technical author of PAS 2050: the international standard for measuring embodied Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions of products and services. 

The behaviour change challenge

The ultimate goal: how to stimulate behavioural change among global consumers, in terms of the products and services they consume, in order to minimise the carbon emissions these emit, and reduce their personal and collective contribution to climate change.


Providing information in a credible, relevant and understandable way is the key to success. Only then will people consider the impact of the products and services they consume and the options available to them in terms of altering their everyday behaviour. Context, therefore, is critical. Displaying the Carbon Reduction Label on pack may quantify the carbon emissions of the product in question, and the maker's determination to reduce those emissions; however to trigger a change in behaviour, people must understand how this fits with the other products and services they consume on a daily basis. Only then can they decide what changes - if any - they are willing to make to reduce their personal carbon footprint. To meet Coca-Cola's brief we needed a fresh approach with the power to educate consumers about the consequences of their actions and isolate the trigger points for behavioural change in terms of their everyday consumption of products and services.

Tom Cumberlege, Consultant, Business Advice, The Carbon Trust

Actions taken   

Together we considered the concepts and public education campaigns that have been understood and embraced by consumers. Nutritional Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) - the system which sets an ideal standard for daily calorie and nutrient consumption - provided us with a possible blueprint for action. We agreed that, by calculating a Personal Carbon Allowance for individual consumers on a daily basis, we could establish a meaningful target. Then we needed to develop and test the best ways of communicating this concept in order to trigger behavioural change.

Ulrike Sapiro, Environmental Sustainability Director of the Coca-Cola Company


Based on this premise a three-phase feasibility study was mapped out by the Carbon Trust. 

Phase 1:

Develop the concept of a carbon GDA - Guideline Daily Allowance (GDA), using existing national consumption data sets for UK consumers to calculate the daily amounts used for everyday events. Then assess an appropriate reduction factor to encourage reductions in 2011 on a trajectory towards the UK's 80% reduction target by 2050.

Phase 2:

Test the personal carbon allowance concept as a 'carbon GDA' with consumers

Assess whether the carbon GDA concept helps consumers make more informed decisions

Collect qualitative data from consumers experience living with carbon GDAs Develop and test options for communicating the carbon GDA.

Phase 3:

Review the findings and develop a series of recommendations for shaping related policy decisions in future.


After extensive analysis, eight lifestyle segments were identified where consumers had the influence to alter their habits. These were commuting, personal daily travel, electricity, gas, food and drink consumption, holidays, and emissions from leisure and lifestyle activities. Further analysis by the Carbon Trust revealed that the average consumer is responsible for 23.1kg of embodied CO2e emissions per day from these lifestyle segments. 

Next the Carbon Trust needed to establish what degree of carbon reduction was needed to ensure consumers were on a reduction trajectory in 2011 to deliver the UK's reduction target by 2050.  This would enable a target guideline daily allowance to be calculated for each lifestyle segment.

A host of complex issues were considered as part of this process, such as the merits of a global versus country-specific allowance, the need for carbon emissions to be gradually reduced over time and the fact that the reduction rate necessary varies depending on the consumers' individual life style as well as their stage of life. After crunching the numbers a daily PCA of 19.9kg CO2e was agreed. Now we were ready to test the idea.

Tom Cumberlege

Consultant, Business Advice, The Carbon Trust

The Carbon Trust worked with rdsi, an independent market research consultancy, to test attitudes to climate change, the PCA concept and personal triggers for behavioural change amongst men and women of various ages and stages of life - singles, families and empty nesters with suburban and urban lifestyles.  All participants were 'light greens': defined as people with an interest in 'green' issues but not yet fully informed or committed to a particular behaviour.

At a glance

What Coca-Cola wanted to do:
Establish how to harness the power of the Coca-Cola brand to inform, educate and empower individual consumer to reduce their personal carbon footprint.

What Coca-Cola did:
Teamed up with the Carbon Trust to develop a robust concept and methodology for a Personal Carbon Allowance and identify the ingredients for success.

What Coca-Cola accomplished:
Developed a robust methodology, identified the opportunities and challenges of this approach and created the evidence needed for the Coca-Cola Company to move forward with confidence and credibility, recruit other brand leaders to support this ambitious new drive towards global sustainability and develop a coherent communications strategy.


Participants were given a customised Carbon Footprint Tool - developed by the Carbon Trust - to record and calculate the emissions associated with their weekly energy usage, food and drink consumption, travel details, leisure and lifestyle activities.


The study confirmed that - while most consumers are willing to reduce their personal carbon footprint and have a good understanding of the impact of domestic energy consumption, transport and recycling, they are confused about the relative impact of their daily activities in terms of the carbon emissions embodied in the products and services they use. I think the idea of having a carbon GDA would be very beneficial on the whole and I believe that the majority of people would appreciate the guidance so they have the choice to alter their lifestyles a little more. Importantly, it also revealed that most people view climate change as an issue of such magnitude and complexity that it is beyond their personal sphere of influence. They simply do not see how altering their own every day habits can have a significant impact on a challenge of this scale. To trigger a widespread shift in behaviour therefore, communications must focus on the immediate, tangible benefits to the individual that have the power to improve their health, wealth and overall quality of life; with carbon savings promoted as a value-added bonus.

Tom Cumberlege, Consultant, Business Advice, The Carbon Trust

I love my cheese and I will always buy it, even if you tell me it's bad for my carbon footprint. It makes me happy. Dieting, eating carefully watching my weight is more important to me than thinking about my carbon consumption.

Study participant

The qualitative feedback from participants suggests they were far more willing to make tangible changes to their behaviour because they knew fellow participants also shared a similar information and communications. Reducing food waste is one area where participants were both surprised at the relative carbon footprint and keen to share experiences of reducing their impacts in this area. The results of the trial also provide interesting insight for future research. Namely, that there was a noticeable gap in the attitudes and behaviours relating to food waste between age groups.


The project confirmed that a real opportunity exists for an iconic brand, such as Coca-Cola, to take the lead, by helping consumers understand how altering their everyday behaviour can make a meaningful contribution to protecting the environment.

Consumers will positively embrace the brand(s) who help them understand how to do their bit for the environment, so long as the information they provide is clear, simple and easy to understand.

As consumers are unaware of the impacts from food and drink and their leisure and lifestyle activities; a much wider education campaign is needed to educate people about the relative carbon emissions embodied in everything they consume.

Importantly, the project has also shown that while consumers are willing to make changes to their daily lifestyle to reduce their carbon footprint, carbon-saving in itself is a secondary issue. Consumers are far more likely to make changes where there are tangible direct dual benefits.


Encouraging consumer-led sustainable consumption is a big challenge for businesses. Together we've explored the potential that environmental information can play and uncovered valuable insights into the attitudes and behaviours of consumers. Coca-Cola does have a powerful brand and we recognise we can help consumers make a difference and influence behaviours. It's clear that to have a larger global impact to encourage sustainable consumption we need to work in partnership with other pioneering organisations. The Carbon Trust's independence and credibility can help provide a non-competitive basis for cross-business collaboration and we're excited at the potential this can have, not only for accelerating consumer behaviour change, but also for the valuable lessons for our work has to inform policy makers.

Ulrike Sapiro, Environmental Sustainability Director of the Coca-Cola Company


Read more about our work on carbon footprinting with Coca-Cola:

Coca-cola case study (PDF)

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