“Citizen Coke” explores Coca-Cola’s enviromental impact

The book traces the history (and mythology) of the Atlanta-based beverage

Midway through his doctoral studies in Southern history at the University of Virginia, Bartow J. Elmore took a course in environmentalism and discovered a new passion. He decided to write the environmental history of “a Southern product that changed the world,” considering obvious subjects like cotton or tobacco. Then he spotted a bottle of Coca-Cola on a colleague’s desk, and epiphany struck.

Photo Illustration by Allyson Busch
Photo Illustration by Allyson Busch

In this month’s Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism (W.W. Norton), Elmore, an Atlanta native who “grew up drinking Coke every day,” traces the history (and mythology) of Coke through its supply chain. The research took him from 350 boxes in Emory University’s archives to India (water) and Peru (coca leaves).

He says that Coke is the “ultimate outsourcer,” consuming ingredients from a vast network of suppliers and creating a massive ecological footprint. Consider this: In 2012, Coca-Cola used more water than Norway, Sweden, and Denmark combined.

The book addresses other multinationals, including Monsanto, Kraft, Hershey, and Apple, and Elmore says it’s more apt to think of Coca-Cola as a software company than as a manufacturer: “Coke has a secret formula; Microsoft has 365.”

This article originally appeared in our November 2014 issue under the headline “World of Coke.”