ATLANTA, GA — The Coca-Cola Company has pledged to replace all its vending machines using hydrofluorocarbons with coolers that employ more environmentally friendly refrigerants by 2015, the beverage firm and Greenpeace said.

Coca-Cola and it bottling partners have about 10 million vending machines and coolers operating around the world. The move to replace all of them with HFC-free units will reduce carbon emissions by 52.5 million metric tons over the life of the new equipment, which is roughly equivalent to taking 11 million cars off the road for a year, the firm and the organization estimate.

Coca-Cola and the environmental group made their joint announcement yesterday, capping almost a decade of work on the issue that dates to Greenpeace’s raucous challenge to the beverage giant at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney to come up with refrigerants that are not as harmful to the environment.

Since then Coca-Cola has spent about $50 million in research and development of cleaner cooling technology for vending machines and commercial coolers and is focusing on two: compressed carbon dioxide for larger units and hydrocarbon refrigeration for smaller units.

“We believe this is the right long-term investment for our business,” Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent said at the news conference announcing his firm’s commitment. Kent also had a message for the beverage and bottling industry and others that rely heavily on refrigeration. “We feel a deep responsibility to lead ... and we believe other businesses will as well,” he said. “So we’re also issuing a call to action to our peers to invest in climate friendly HFC -free refrigeration.”

“We are openly sharing technical infomation,” the Coca-Cola chief said, referring to the company's work on cooling technology used in hydrocarbon and CO2 units.  “Our intent is to get a wider coalition -- we’re not trying to make money on this technology.”

Phil Radford, Greenpeace USA’s executive director, praised the firm for its work to transform the industry. “Over the years, we didn’t know this day would come,” Radford said.  “Greenpeace and Coke have had a long and complex history.

“Greenpeace is known for its tougher campaigns and we often say we can dance with, or dance on, companies -- Greenpeace and Coca-Cola are doing the tango.”

The company has deployed thousands of HFC-free vending machines at major international events in recent years, including the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics, the 2006 World Cup and the Beijing Summer Olympics last year.

On Thursday, it pledged to have 150,000 HFC-free vending machines and coolers in place by the end of 2010 -- an increase of its earlier commitment to have 100,000 in place next year.

Other firms also have made strides in the area. Coca-Cola with Unilever, whose brands include Lipton, and McDonald’s, which opened its first HFC-free restaurant in 2003, shared an EPA Climate Protection Award in 2005 for efforts to promote eco-friendly refrigeration.

The three companies along with Carlsberg Group, Ikea and Pepsico participate in the Refrigerant Naturally coalition, which is supported by UNEP and Greenpeace.

Pepsi’s campaign to use vending machines and coolers that slash greenhouse gas emissions included a roll-out of 30 HFC-free machines in the Washington D.C. area this spring. The pilot followed the firm’s introduction in 2008 of vending machines that use 51 percent less energy than its 2003 models.

Ben & Jerry’s is testing cleaner freezers as well. Also working with Greenpeace, the frozen treat confectioner and rolled out its first 50 freezers for testing in Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., in fall 2008.

Coca-Cola says its transition to HFC-refrigeration will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 99 percent. Its use of CO2, the firm said, is 1,430 time less damaging than HFC.

As for its international presence, the company is aiming for a “zero-carbon” Olympics at the Vancouver Games in 2010, where are all the Coke machines will be HFC-free, according to Kent. “The 2012 London Games are still a work in progress,but we certainly won’t be going backwards.