Even Better than the Real Thing

How to Create an Environmentally Sustainable Economy by Overcoming Coca-Cola’s 20th-century failures
MAHATHIR MOHD YASIN / Shutterstock.com

Coca-Cola is everywhere. Every day, 1.8 billion servings of its products are sold. The company has bottling plants in every corner of the globe from Australia to Zimbabwe.

New America Carnegie fellow Bart Elmore, an environmental historian at the Ohio State University, set out to uncover how this company from Atlanta, his hometown, conquered the globe. The result was Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism published by W. W. Norton.

This book chronicles Elmore’s global journey to discover how the “The Real Thing” affected ecosystems in the real world. Using the critical ingredients in Coca-Cola as a roadmap, Elmore exposes the government partnerships and business strategies that enabled Coke to acquire the natural resources it needed at dirt cheap prices as it expanded into hundreds of countries worldwide.

Not just a story of a soft drink, Citizen Coke chronicles the making of what Elmore calls “Coca-Cola capitalism,” a system for making money deployed by many businesses in the 20th century that involved scavenging on natural capital stockpiles generated by vertically integrated industrial empires, agribusinesses, and government-run utilities. The book shows how vertical integration was not the only path to profits followed by many successful businesses in the twentieth century. Coke made money by channeling natural resources through global production and distribution networks that it did not own or directly manage. Pitched as good for local business, Elmore shows how Coca-Cola capitalism ultimately weighed heavily on host communities, especially in places like India where Coke was able to capture precious water resources in arid regions of the country. Coke’s heavy ecological footprint, in other words, was directly linked to its lean corporate structure. 

Join New America’s Fellows Program and Bart for a discussion with Georgetown professor John McNeill to celebrate the publication of the paperback edition of the book. Copies of the book will be available for purchase.


Bart Elmore@bartelmore 
New America Carnegie Fellow 
Assistant Professor of Environmental History, Ohio State University 
Author, Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism

John McNeill 
University Professor, Georgetown University