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Coca-Cola’s Muhtar Kent on Atlanta and sustainability

By Maria Saporta

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent has lived in some of the greatest cities of the world. So when he talks about Atlanta’s potential, it’s worth paying close attention.

“Atlanta has an opportunity to become a world-class sustainable city defined by smart growth, quality transportation infrastructure and world-class educators,” Kent said. “The greatest cities in the world are moving in that direction fast. Atlanta has an incredible opportunity take a lead.”

Kent spoke those words at Monday’s Atlanta Rotary Club, following a long line of Coca-Cola executives who have spoken to the organization that includes some of the city’s top leaders.

It was the first time Kent, who became Coca-Cola’s CEO in July, 2008, was making a major speech before an Atlanta audience.

Kent shared with the group his travel schedule of just the past couple of weeks. Mexico City. Tel Aviv, Israel. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Bangkok, Thailand. Moscow.

“Each of these cities and their respective nations are in various stages of development,” Kent said. “All of them are on the move. All of them are investing heavily in their future and in the future of their people. There’s no reason Atlanta can’t become what it envisions. I believe our city and our region are here at a tipping point of sorts.”

Atlanta has long tradition of being ahead of its time. It was the city where the Civil Rights movement flourished. It was the city that was able to attract the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Now Atlanta can take a similar lead on the way it grows in the future.

“There’s a growing awareness and linkage between sustainability, the environment and quality of life,” said Kent, who specifically mentioned the beauty of Atlanta’s trees. “They’re ushering a new era for our city.”

So why is the CEO of the Coca-Cola Co. so interested in urban issues?

Kent answered that question in this way. A couple of years ago, the world passed a major milestone — more people now are living in cities than outside of cities.

“The shift from an agrarian society to cities is here,” Kent said. “Today the world is becoming more urban.”

Estimates show that 65 million people each year will continue moving from rural areas to cities, at least for the next decade. That’s equal to a new Atlanta region every 30 days.

That population shift will only exacerbate issues of scarce energy, basic food needs, limited natural resources, limited clean water supply. Calling it the “new equilibrium or the new normal,” Kent said the world has incredible opportunities and challenges, such as the relationship between the poorest and the wealthiest.

In talking about how these demographic and environmental shifts will impact the Coca-Cola Co., Kent said its brands are “affordable luxuries.” Also, “ready-to-drink beverages” are ideal for urban areas.

“Our industry is expected to grow by over $1 trillion by 2020, far outpacing other consumer categories,” he said.

But Coca-Cola also has a responsibility to make sure that it grows in sustainable ways. He repeated the company’s pledge to become “water neutral” by 2020, meaning it will return all the water that it uses by implementing the following course of action: recycle, replenish, reduce.

Kent also complimented Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin for launching the Sustainable Atlanta program.

“I hope our next mayor embraces a similar attitude for action,” Kent said. Later he added: “Just like the Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta can’t get to the future in a vacuum. We have to work together on a shared vision.”

Then Kent said that his company “will continue to be engaged pro-actively in every aspect of the city,” such as the new Center for Civil and Human Rights. “It’s about how we can create success together.”

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. El Gordo September 15, 2009 7:48 pm

    Obviously wants to score points with city officials and Chamber of Commerce for some favor. If it’s so great, go walk down Forsyth Street at 2 am.Report

  2. E Kennan September 15, 2009 11:53 pm

    I applaud Mr. Kent’s effort to show leadership in the city, something that the Chamber of Commerce seems to have missed. For example in a recent meeting between one of the Chamber’s VPs and members, members were told that green and sustainability was a fad. Clearly the Chamber has some issues it needs to resolve if VPs are making this kind of statement to anyone much less it’s own members.

    Also, the recent push back from the real estate community including the International Shopping Center Association who has pro-sustainability information all over it’s website but has been fighting the Atlanta Sustainable Building Ordinance shows a lack of vision for what our city’s future can hold. Atlanta’s business leaders who have pursued sustainability need to support the ASBO the first important policy issue to come from Sustainable Atlanta. The real estate community who asked for the ordinance to be voluntary needs to wake up. It’s already voluntary and many forward thinking firms like HOK and others have moved forward. However, for us to achieve the Mayor’s goals to be world leader in sustainability, we need policy and broad cooperation to make it work.

    Sustainability is something the business community as a whole needs to embrace. Even Georgia Power is experiencing a shift in the public’s attitude and therefore surprising results at the Public Service Commission where a 5 to 0 vote occurred in early August to support an increase in the amount of solar energy Georgia Power has to buy back.

    Sustainability is the new school issue. Years ago cities and communities realized that in order to attract new business that schools had to meet minimum requirements so staffs would feel comfortable relocating and therefore diminishing attrition rates for the companies. Sustainability is that new issue. Companies will look at things like air quality, transportation, modernity of electrical grids and a “green” quality of life. The Mayor and Mr. Kent recognize that the importance of Atlanta’s future depend on these “fad” issues of sustainability. Let’s hope the rest of the business community catches up.Report

  3. ATL September 16, 2009 8:06 am

    The Atlanta Business and Development communities need to stop fighting the city’s proposed LEED ordinance and start living up to their ‘progressive city’ rhetoric…
    Yes Atlanta, a city that has so far grown in a most UN-sustainable way does have the power to lead the way to a more sustainable future— The simple fact of the matter is Atlanta must grow in ways that are in harmony with nature—or ultimately shrivel on the vine… the water crisis being but one startling example of this…Report

  4. E Kennan September 16, 2009 10:26 pm

    @ATL agreed! EDAW won that national competition, that truly had some wonderful solutions using existing infrastructure to go a long way in solving the water issue. Have no idea if any movement was made on it.Report


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