Did Your Favorite Soda Just Get Greener?

Because Coca-Cola and PepsiCo represent such well-known global brands, the effects of the changes they've committed to will extend far beyond their own markets.
10/01/2015 02:01 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2016

My coauthor for this post is Todd Paglia, executive director of ForestEthics.

Coke or Pepsi? Millions of soda drinkers tend to prefer one or the other. Regardless of which carbonated container of sweetened water they guzzle, though, it just became a little bit greener. That's because Coca-Cola and PepsiCo -- America's two largest soft drink makers -- have signed a letter committing to both increase fuel efficiency and reduce the use of high-carbon, climate-polluting fuels in their truck fleets.

Why is this so significant? Because Coca-Cola and PepsiCo operate tens of thousands of delivery trucks that are in near constant operation around the world. For years, through the Future Fleet Campaign, the Sierra Club, ForestEthics, and our supporters have been urging Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to change how they power these fleets.

Now, at last, we are pleased to say that the companies are doing just that. Through the Business for Social Responsibility Future of Fuels program, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are researching the carbon intensity of their vehicle fuels, the ways that they can reduce reliance on high-carbon fuels, and opportunities for increasing the number of plug-in and hybrid vehicles in their fleets. Through the American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Dr Pepper Snapple Group, the industry has also begun tracking vehicle fleet efficiency and will regularly publicize both that data and efforts to improve vehicle fuel efficiency.

Additionally, PepsiCo has joined other leading companies in calling for strong standards to increase the fuel efficiency of heavy- and medium-duty trucks. Freight trucks are the fastest-growing source of oil consumption in the transportation sector. The U.S. EPA and the Department of Transportation currently are determining new rules for trucks, which often average as few as six miles per gallon.

Improving the efficiency of freight trucks will also pay huge climate dividends. By 2030, global greenhouse gas emissions from freight trucks are expected to surpass those from passenger vehicles.

Fortunately, we already have cost-effective ways  to make trucks much more efficient. From aerodynamic trailers to advanced transmissions, analysis shows that we could reduce new truck fuel consumption 40 percent by 2025. These technologies are already being tapped by PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. PepsiCo currently operates the largest all-electric delivery vehicle fleet in America, and Coca-Cola operates the largest heavy-duty hybrid electric commercial truck fleet in North America. Although both companies have been working to add more alternative-fuel vehicles to their fleets, they should be able to accelerate that progress.

Because Coca-Cola and PepsiCo represent such well-known global brands, the effects of the changes they've committed to will extend far beyond their own markets. Their decisions will not only influence what vehicles manufacturers choose to build but will also add to the growing  market uncertainty for high-carbon fuels, like Canadian tar sands. Such fuels, which cause significantly more conventional and climate pollution, can be avoided if companies work with fuel suppliers.

Burning oil currently accounts for more than 40 percent of U.S. carbon pollution, and to change that we will need to transform our transportation sector. Large corporations like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are among Big Oil's most influential customers. With these new commitments, they join  19 other large businesses that have announced actions to reduce the environmental and social harms caused by relying on fossil-fuels for transportation.