by Marion Nestle
Nov 10 2011

Coca-Cola v. Grand Canyon: donations come with short strings

I’m always saying that food company donations and partnerships to health and environmental Good Causes end up doing more for the companies than the recipients.  Money always talks.  Accepting corporate donations comes with strings that create conflicts of interest.

The latest evidence for these assertions comes from the Grand Canyon’s efforts to get plastic water and soda bottles out of the park.  These account for a whopping 30% of its waste.

According to the account in today’s New York Times, Coca-Cola, one of the park’s big donors, convinced the National Park Service to block the bottle ban.

Stephen P. Martin, the architect of the plan and the top parks official at the Grand Canyon, said his superiors told him two weeks before its Jan. 1 start date that Coca-Cola, which distributes water under the Dasani brand and has donated more than $13 million to the parks, had registered its concerns about the bottle ban through the foundation, and that the project was being tabled.

The Times quotes Mr. Martin:

That was upsetting news because of what I felt were ethical issues surrounding the idea of being influenced unduly by business…It was even more of a concern because we had worked with all the people who would be truly affected in their sales and bottom line, and they accepted it.

It also quotes a Coca-Cola spokeswoman, Susan Stribling:

the company would rather help address the plastic litter problem by increasing the availability of recycling programs. “Banning anything is never the right answer…If you do that, you don’t necessarily address the problem…You’re not allowing people to decide what they want to eat and drink and consume.”

And throw plastic bottles into the park, I guess.

This sordid episode explains why Coke gives millions to the Grand Canyon.  In a word, greenwashing.


Coke needs to change its position on this one.  And so does the Park Service.


  • If Coca-Cola were wise they’d start manufacturing Nalgene-type, non-disposable water bottles–win/win situation for them. Then they can put their name across them and make them in red and white if they choose to (so we can be thinking about their non water beverages).

  • Gianni Lovato

    Maybe we could stop buying Coca-Cola products. I have not done so in 20 years or more and I can assure that I am not hurting even a little.
    All I have to do now is set the money I save aside and send it to the National Parks Endowment. With NO STRINGS attached, of course.
    We do have choices.

  • Anthro

    The idea that we must have a “choice” about every single bit of minutae in our lives is the latest goofy meme being hurtled about the mediasphere. I hear this “choice” thing all the time in all sorts of ridiculous (and irresponsible) contexts–nurses not wanting vaccinations, for instance. People seem to forget what I was taught as early as the third grade in Social Studies: Your rights end where another person’s begin. You cannot “choose” to put my life in danger–especially when your “choice” is based on a complete lack of factual data.

    It is laughable to see the way the issue is “spinned” by the parties of greed. As if people’s experience in a national park would be seriously threatened if they could not have access to a plastic bottle, for goodness’ sake.

  • Sue Hart

    I have have never blogged before so I searched for I site where I could respond. Any suggestions on spreading this info and garnering some specific reaction from the public against Coke?

  • Gianni, just in case you hadn’t noticed, while you may not be “hurting even a little” from your decision not to buy any Coca-Cola products in the last 20 years…. neither is Coke.

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  • Michael Bulger


    You can write to your representatives in government to tell them you are concerned. You could also write an opinion and send it to a newspaper. Maybe you are part of a community or religious group where you can spread the word. I’d say that if you feel the issue is important, you might want to keep reading and researching. The more you know, the easier it might be to see how you can get involved.

  • I’m on Coke’s side on this one. It’s rediculous that people can’t just throw away their trash by keeping it a few more steps..