Japan disaster problems? Coke is the real thing

Is Coca-Cola standing in the way of the auto industry’s recovery from the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor disaster?

A friend of mine in Japan thinks so.

The auto industry is waiting for suppliers in the devastated region to get back to full production. But that may be delayed by rolling power blackouts this summer, when air-conditioning demand will overwhelm the crippled electric utility industry.

That’s not necessary, says my friend. No blackouts would be necessary if Coke would unplug its massive network of vending machines.

Those machines, especially the ones that both cool beverages and heat Coke’s Georgia-brand canned coffee, suck up an enormous amount of electricity. Some studies show that each 24-hour vending machine requires very nearly as much electricity as the average Japanese household (which also says something about the size of the average Japanese home).

And they are ubiquitous. The conventional wisdom is that Japan’s vending machines as a whole require the equivalent of five Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants’ full output.

Coke has the largest market share in Japan. If it unplugged its machines, its rivals there would be shamed into doing likewise, my friend argues.

He’s urging his friends to e-mail Coca-Cola, demanding the company unplug its vending machines so other aspects of Japanese life can get back to normal. I think he has a point.