A sponsorship deal between this year’s COP climate summit and Coca-Cola has been slammed as “jarring” and “concerning” by an environmental group, and branded “greenwash” by campaigners.
Opposition to the sponsorship deal has been mounting and more than 200,000 people have signed a petition calling for the decision to be reversed.
George Harding-Rolls, campaign manager at environmental group Changing Markets Foundation, told NationalWorld that the sponsorship is a “real slap in the face” to both climate campaigners and communities impacted by Coca-Cola’s plastic pollution, adding that the deal “gives an unwarranted green glow to a plastic polluting giant”.
‘Hugely concerning state of affairs’
Robbie Gillett, Badvertising campaigner at climate charity Possible, told NationalWorld that the sponsorship is “an egregious exercise in greenwash that endangers the important work the conference is trying to achieve.”
He said that “while this decision will stain COP27, we have to hope that outcry forces a change in approach, with future conferences freeing themselves of major polluters.”
Mr Harding-Rolls is also strongly opposed to the sponsorship deal, saying it is “symbolic of how much influence these companies have”.
He said: “Seeing a major corporate polluter such as Coca-Cola pull off the ultimate greenwashing move in its sponsorship of COP27 is a real slap in the face to both environmentalists who have spent years documenting the company’s environmental and social irresponsibility, but also to the communities disproportionately impacted by plastic pollution produced by Coca-Cola.
“Let us not forget that plastic pollution and climate change are inherently linked and that plastic production is a major and growing source of emissions. To have such a major polluter representing COP27 is jarring.”
‘A dirge on the planet’s environment’
Coca-Cola was named as the world’s number one plastic polluter in 2021 after an audit was conducted by Break Free From Plastic, a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic. The company also admitted in 2019 that it uses three million tonnes of plastic packages in a year.
Commenting on the firm’s environmental track record, Mr Harding-Rolls said: “They churn out a gargantuan amount of single-use plastic every minute, and yet our own investigations have found they have a track record of undermining the collection, recycling, redesign measures that would be needed to reduce and manage this plastic waste across the world.
“Our research also found that they have left behind a 30 year trail of broken promises and unmet commitments on plastic and yet have successfully convinced both the public and governments that they should be taken at their word.”
Mr Gillett added that Coca-cola has “for a long time” been “a dirge on the planet’s environment.”
He said: “In one year alone they produce 2.9 million tonnes of plastic - that is the most significant contribution to plastic pollution compared to any company in the world.”
Coca-Cola did join the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2018, which draws together a group of multinationals to cut plastic waste. The firm committed by 2025 to a 20% reduction in the use of virgin plastic, to eliminate problematic plastic packaging, to move from single use towards re-use models, and to only use 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging.
However, data from the Foundation named Coca-Cola as one of the worst offenders for increasing virgin, non-recycled plastic in 2021. It was found to have increased its use of newly manufactured plastic by 3.5% since 2019.
‘We are prepared to do our part’
During the signing ceremony of the sponsorship deal in Cairo, Ahmed Rady, Coca-Cola’s vice-president of operations for north Africa, said: “Coca-Cola’s firm belief that working together through meaningful partnerships will create shared opportunities for communities and people around the world and in Egypt.”
Coca-Cola said: “We share the goal of eliminating waste from the ocean and appreciate efforts to raise awareness about this challenge. We are prepared to do our part and have set ambitious goals for our business, starting with helping to collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell – regardless of where it comes from – by 2030.
“In 2020 we signed a joint statement urging United Nations member states to adopt a global treaty to tackle the plastic waste issue through a holistic, circular economy approach … Our support for COP27 is in line with our science-based target to reduce absolute carbon emissions 25% by 2030, and our ambition for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
However, Mr Harding-Rolls told NationalWorld: “It’s very common for corporates to muscle in to these events through sponsorship. It’s an easy win for them, as we can see from their lack of action despite their commitment to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there’s very little accountability for their climate or packaging targets.
“Making big (empty) promises is a small price to pay for the boost to their reputation this sponsorship was supposedly seeking to achieve.”
Mr Gillett added that COP conferences “have a poor track record” in regard to picking official sponsorship partners, allowing companies to “greenwash their public image”.
He said: “Last year we saw Jaguar Land Rover - the company that has filled UK streets with polluting SUVs - welcomed as a sponsor by the UK government. Coal companies and airlines have also used the COP meetings to greenwash their public image.”
Unilever, the consumer goods multinational, was the principal partner at COP26 in Glasgow last year, while AG Barr, maker of Irn-Bru, was the exclusive soft drink and water supplier at two convention centres in Glasgow during the conference.
Sponsorship of COP26 was said to have been worth about £250 million. Other companies that were involved included Sky, Hitachi, National Grid, ScottishPower, Microsoft, NatWest, Sainsbury’s and Unilever.
NationalWorld has contacted Coca-Cola and the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) for comment.