Coca-Cola CEO: Wall Street plays catch-up rewarding firms for socially responsible investments

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Investors are increasingly paying attention to the company’s sustainability efforts, Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO James Quincey told CNBC on Monday.

“We have been having our sustainability goals out there for the last 10 years,” Quincey said in a “Squawk on the Street” interview. “But the amount of attention by the investor base shot up exponentially in the last few years.”

ESG investing — which weighs environmental, social and governance against traditional profit and loss metrics — has become all the rage on Wall Street, as more and more people look to back companies with missions they can believe in.

For example, Coca-Cola, which made 110 billion plastic bottles in 2016, is working toward recovering and recycling the equivalent of 75% of the bottles it produces by next year. Last December, Coke announced two investments in recycling technologies that will allow it to use recycled plastics for its bottles more efficiently. By 2030, the beverage giant hopes to use 50% recycled content in its bottles.

Quincey also said he’s confident that Coca-Cola can reduce its carbon footprint 25% by 2020, a goal set in 2013. He pointed to the company becoming “water neutral” in 2016 — meaning it replenishes 100% of the water it uses in its finished beverages — as a proof of success.

“We have a track record of setting ambitious sustainability goals, and going after them,” the CEO said. “In the end, there is only one planet, and we all want to live on it, and we want to be able to do so with a good quality of life. That requires us to hit our sustainability goals.”

In its third quarter, Coca-Cola earned 56 cents per share, matching estimates. The company, in October, also delivered quarterly revenue of $9.5 billion, beating expectations, as more customers were attracted by healthier options, like Zero Sugar soda and smaller size cans.

However, the company acknowledged plans to address weaker performance in its water brands. As more consumers reconsider their use of plastic, growth in bottled water sales has slowed. Coca-Cola, among many companies thinking about how to make packaging more environmentally friendly, plans to sell its Dasani water in aluminum bottles and cans.

“We are positioning the company to create a better shared future for all of our stakeholders by delivering on our vision and growing sustainably,” Quincey said in October’s news release detailing the company’s third-quarter financials.

— CNBC’s Amelia Lucas contributed to this report.

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