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Wednesday, Nov 27, 2002

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Of green issues & luncheons

Our Bureau

NEW DELHI, Nov. 26

`WHY should business care' was the theme deliberated over lunch at the World Economic Forum's session on environment, hosted by Coca-Cola. And as the session concluded, one could not help wondering does business care at all?

With the clatter of cutlery drowning out the panelists, it seemed environment was the last thing on anyone's mind. Coca-Cola's group President, East and South Asia, Mr Patrick T. Siewert was the moderator for the session whose participants included the cola major's India chief, Mr Alex Von Behr, besides Nestle India's chief, Mr Carlo M. Donati. But despite the presence of pro-greens like Ms Sunita Narain, Director, Centre for Science and Environment, all that the session could come up with was the need for greater transparency in the system.

Contentious issues like the need for reducing emissions and effluents and need for cleaner technology were not something this session was keen on biting into. And given that Coca-Cola, along with its competitor Pepsi, had been hauled up by no less than the Supreme Court for vandalising rocks of the Himalayan range — the rationale behind having Coca-Cola sponsor this luncheon-session had many bewildered.

In fact, Coca-Cola has also been grabbing headlines, particularly in South India, for its alleged role in "appropriating ground water resources", an issue raised by a Kerala-based non-governmental organisation.

Meanwhile, given the United Nations Framework for Climate Change (UNFCC) meeting hosted in the Capital recently, where the US reiterated its refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol — no questions were asked here on the commitment level of US-based companies, like Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, and their implementation plans for green technologies.

In fact, there were almost no questions at all; thanks to an imploring moderator, there eventually were a few questions.

While none can grudge the participants a decent lunch, should the organisers have clubbed a serious topic like environment with lunch is something the sponsors should chew on for future sessions.

The commitment of corporates was illustrated from the luncheon-session, where the limited deliberation that took place too was lost in the din. May be grave environmental concerns like global warming and climate change, to mention just the tip of the ice-berg, will be food for serious thought at least at next year's session.

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