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Peter Coors, head of the Colorado-based Coors brewing empire and scion of one of the most powerful families in the mountain West, has taken to the airwaves.
His mission is to spread the Green gospel.
And sell beer.
In case you've been living in a cave or never watch TV sports, the script goes like this: Coors, looking like L.L. Bean, crouches next to a stream trickling through high granite mountains. He gazes directly into the camera, earnest as a missionary, and talks about his company's historic commitment to the environment. He says Coors, together with your local distributor, is showing its commitment by sponsoring Pure Water 2000, which funds grassroots cleanup efforts nationwide.
Look for information wherever Coors beer is sold. End of scene.
The TV spots are intended to draw attention to a Coors publicity campaign aimed at alerting Phoenix residents on the need to conserve water. The campaign consists of free brochures and stickers shaped like water droplets, on display wherever Coors is sold.
The advent of Pure Water 2000 is an interesting development, particularly because the beer company last made national headlines when it was indicted for discharging toxic waste from its Golden, Colorado, brewery site into Clear Creek, an important water source for nearby Denver, during the early 1980s.
The case was recently settled when the company agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanors and pay a $650,000 fine in connection with the incident, which occurred when company employees pumped solvent contamination out of two wells supplying brewing water and into the adjacent creek.
Peter Coors did not respond to an interview request, but Todd Appleman, chief of corporate communications, says, "Pure Water 2000 is not connected in any way to the settlement of the water-pollution claim. It stems from a personal commitment to the environment by Peter Coors. He is past president of Ducks Unlimited and is on its board of directors."
Appleman adds, "And Coors, the company, despite all the things you read, has a long-term relationship with the environment."
The media information kit for Pure Water 2000 outlines eco-minded policies such as employee car-pooling, water recycling and beer trucks that burn clean fuels. Coors claims to be the first brewer to offer incentives for recycling and the first to switch to aluminum cans.
"Although Coors' environmental record is not perfect, and the company has made some mistakes in the past, it has accepted the challenge and has committed significant resources to improving its operations," the information sheet says.
Actually the Coors company, aside from the water-pollution conviction, is best known for its anti-environmental initiatives. Former company leader Joe Coors funded and helped found the Denver-based Mountain States Legal Foundation expressly to fight the growth of national environmental laws.
The foundation's early directors include James Watt (a close friend of Joe Coors) and Anne Gorsuch Burford, both of whom later engineered massive rollbacks in federal environmental programs as Reagan appointees.
Appleman acknowledges that Mountain States received $10,000 in 1989 from the Coors Foundation, which is funded by company profits, but says Peter Coors has no control over spending by the family foundation. "It has a separate board of directors and does what it wants."
Lots of people are burdened with relatives who do embarrassing things, but Joe Coors' antics are legendary. Under Joe, the company was a key funding source for an array of right-wing political activities. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, relations between Coors and its mainly Hispanic work force were bad to the point of violence, owing in large part to Joe's low opinion of collective bargaining.
Times have changed since Peter Coors took charge, Appleman says: "Peter Coors has instituted a lot of changes. The company does not now have a relationship with Mountain States Legal Foundation."
Appleman explains the new TV campaign this way: "When people go to buy beer, we want them to realize that if they buy Coors, they are supporting a company that cares about the environment and is doing something concrete to help it."
At the same time, he says, "we don't apologize for the fact we're selling beer.