Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have been the fiercest of competitors for decades but the fact that their rivalry now extends to 'outgreening' one another could be good news for the environment, writes Annette Farr.

The century-old cola war appears to be taking on a green hue. "We aspire to environmental excellence", declares Coca-Cola on its website whilst PepsiCo states it is "committed to being an environmentally responsible corporate citizen".

In the last month, both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have announced achievements and initiatives towards combating climate change in what could be viewed as an 'Anything you can do, I can do greener' bout of environmental one-upmanship.

PepsiCo reports that its 950,000 sq ft Gatorade facility in Wytheville, Virginia has received a gold level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental) certificate from the US Green Building Council (USBGC). The system evaluates a site's sustainability and environmental credentials such as water and energy efficiency.

"By constructing its new manufacturing facilities to LEED standards, Gatorade and its parent company PepsiCo have demonstrated a strong commitment to the green building programme - and to the long-term goals of conserving energy and protecting the environment," says Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair of the USGBC. "The Gatorade and PepsiCo model is one we hope other industries will follow."

"This significant recognition underscores our commitment to environmental stewardship, which is a core part of PepsiCo's sustainability vision," adds Jim Lynch, PepsiCo's senior vice president, supply chain for QTG (Quaker-Tropicana-Gatorade).

The ante was upped by Coca-Cola with its recently announced measures to reduce energy consumption at the company's 2m sq ft Atlanta headquarters by 23% and water consumption by nearly 15%, with the aim of reducing more than 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. That is equivalent, says Coca-Cola, to removing 2,000 cars from the road.

"By taking bold measures to conserve natural resources in our own backyard, we want to send a message to companies and individuals that combating a leading global environmental problem demands local action," says Bryan Jacob, Coke's energy and climate protection manager. "We all have a role to play, from using energy-efficient lighting where we can, to repairing leaky faucets and watering our lawns only in the morning and the evening."

The company is investing US$3m in energy-efficient lighting and air conditioning equipment, rainwater harvesting techniques and advanced irrigation control systems. "As the number one ingredient in our beverages and an essential component to life on earth, water is important to our company. Since climate change will have a profound impact on freshwater resources, we are making water conservation a priority. The irrigation improvement projects at our Atlanta office complex will reduce the water used for landscaping by an estimated 75%." Jacob adds.

Good news for Coca-Cola's garden then. Meanwhile, at the Gatorade plant half of the facility's 135 acres will be returned to its natural state to promote biodiversity. Further news from PepsiCo is the purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs). The largest REC buy to date matches the purchased electricity used by all PepsiCo US-based manufacturing facilities, headquarters, distribution centres and regional offices.

"Energy is a key focus for PepsiCo within its environmental sustainability agenda," says John Compton, chief executive officer, PepsiCo North America. "The purchase of these RECs is not only in line with our progress to date, but further advances our commitment to sustainability."

As a result, PepsiCo now tops the US Environmental Protection Agency's quarterly list of America's 25 greenest energy users, a position which affords PepsiCo much kudos and marketing leverage over its competitors.

Yet it was not so long ago that both companies were accused of causing environmental damage in India, depleting local communities of their groundwater. Also waste material which Coca-Cola had provided as a fertiliser to local farmers proved to have dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, and the cola drinks themselves have been surrounded by pesticide scares which the two companies joined forces to deny.

In mitigation, Coca-Cola has introduced a series rainwater harvesting projects launched in March this year to coincide with World Water Day funded by Hindustan Coca-Cola. Gaurav Chaturvedi, the company's area operations director, says: "To maintain water sustainability, it is very crucial that we capture and direct as much rain water as possible into the ground. All our Rain Water Harvesting initiatives are steps taken in that direction."

PepsiCo boasts that every division is engaged in water projects, such as one in Kerala, India, where it has increased the water supply by digging new wells.

Not many organisations have the global reach of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. Therefore it is to be hoped that their historic rivalry will generate further tangible results in combating climate change, and their actions prove to be more than a public relations exercise or marketing tool.