TED Conversations

Christine Mason McCaull

Partner, Milsal + McCaull

TEDCRED 500+

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Pepsi's TED talk: Progressive corporate transformation, or TEDwashing (like greenwashing for intellectuals)?

How do we encourage corporations to be involved in the debate, discussion, action and hopefully be a part of massively needed solutions, without creating an apologia or greenwashing for current business practices? The PepsiCo talk highlighted the good, the foundation, social interaction, and Indra is a very charismatic leader, yet the bulk of their business is peddling unsustainable relatively non-nutritive snack foods and beverages with huge amounts of waste packaging (all FritoLay, Gatorade, QuakerOats) worldwide, with huge amounts of lifestyle and neuromarketing science going into creating demand, and the science of sales optimization. On the other hand, I look at how WalMart (big TED involvement) and how their sustainability efforts have been able to move the needle in packaging, or fisheries, and am grateful for their participation. Or Shell, a prior sponsor.

Can a Pepsi reinvent at the product level?

Here is the debate:
What is the role of corporations at TED, or on the TED stage?

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    Mar 7 2011: I believe the role of the corporation in relation to TED is to provide financial and cultural support to TED as both a nonprofit organization and as a mission to spread worthy ideas. What corporations (or anyone else) must not do is misuse the TED platform to spread ideas that should be stopped from spreading. Promoting unhealthy products using the good deeds done by its unaffiliated consumers is IMO an idea worth stopping. Pepsi and many of its products are objectively unhealthy. The efforts of people (including Pepsi consumers and employees) to do good is inspiring, and Pepsi does deserve praise and gratitude for devoting some funds to help those projects. However, not one of those projects contributes changes the unhealthful effects of their products. For Pepsi to live up to its culture motto, the ‘performance’ of its products needs to be viewed in the context of its material products. As food & drink, Pepsi’s performance is by and large detrimental to the health of its consumers and irreconcilable with a purpose that considers the well-being of its consumers. I have no objection to people choosing Pepsi (or Coke) and enjoying their many tasty products as a (modest and small) part of a healthy diet. I do object to the incredible lack of transparency and honesty is the statement that Pepsi is fundamentally or innately good because of 1 ad and culture campaign. To me, ‘performance with purpose’ necessarily means aligning a food company’s products and actions with honest and measurable indicators of its consumer’s well-being. Giving $$$ to TED would be fine, but to be TED-stage-worthy, imo, Pepsi should be straight: Is it wise to consume Pepsi Products? How much lower or higher are Pepsi consumers’ rates of obesity and diabetes than they were 10 years ago? How do they compare with those rates in people who don’t use Pepsi products, or who use their competitors’ products? There is enormous room for big companies to do good, and I am eager and ready to applaud those.

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