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Coke eyes climate-friendlier vending machines

The soft-drink company plans to replace hydrofluorocarbon, a contributor to greenhouse gases, in its new vending machines and coolers by 2015.

Coca-Cola said Thursday that it will eliminate a major greenhouse gas in its new vending machines and coolers, raising the bar for climate-friendly refrigeration in the food and beverage industry.

Coke's Chief Executive Muhtar Kent said that the company, which sells everything from soda and juice drinks to water, will replace hydrofluorocarbon, also known as HFC, in its new vending machines and coolers by 2015.

While Coke's 10 million vending machines, coolers and other refrigeration equipment around the world keep its drinks chilled, they also are the biggest contributor to the company's carbon footprint.

Coca-Cola's HFC-free vending machine
The sticker on this Coca-Cola vending machine reads: "This Cooler is from the Future. Wait, that's Now. This cooler is an HFC-free pioneer, reducing direct green house gas emissions by 99% and energy consumption by up to 40%." Coca-Cola

Together the refrigeration systems emit 15 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year--about 40 percent of the company's total.

Greenhouse gases from hydrofluorocarbons are partly blamed for global climate change and are expected to make up 28 percent to 45 percent of carbon emissions by 2050.

That has prompted the food and beverage industry to find other ways to cool products and cut their environmental impact. Earlier this year Pepsico launched a pilot program for greener vending machines with carbon-dioxide cooling.

Coke executives said that carbon dioxide is the company's preferred replacement, followed by hydrocarbon refrigeration.

While carbon dioxide is a global-warming gas, proponents point to its lower environmental impact--more than 1,400 times less than conventional refrigerants.

To ramp up the transition to greener machines, Coke and its bottling partners will buy 150,000 units of HFC-free equipment in 2010, doubling the company's current pace for buying the systems.

"Our hope is that our initial investments will trigger adoption by other companies in the food and beverage industry," Kent said in a conference call with reporters.

He added that wider adoption will help drive the cost of the replacement technology down.

Coke has invested $50 million in research for climate friendly replacements. The company expects the move to greener equipment to cut its emissions by nearly 53 million metric tons--the equivalent of taking 11 million cars off the road for a year--over the 10-year life-span of the equipment.

Even as businesses like Coke take their own initiative, regulations on HFC are needed eventually, Gerd Leipold, former executive director of Greenpeace International said Thursday. The environmental activist group helped jump start Coke's move to greener refrigeration several years ago.

Leipold expects some regulations to come forward from the U.N. climate talks being held this month in Copenhagen and from environmental trendsetter California.

Shares of Coke closed down 1.19 percent at $57.27 each on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.