The Conference of Parties (COP) is an annual conference serving as the formal meeting of the members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty committing each member state to action against climate change. The previous COP (COP26) was sharply criticised by activists as being inaccessible to those in communities at the frontlines of the climate crisis with visa and accreditation problems, changing travel laws, unaffordable accommodation, and Covid concerns, all serving as barriers to its participation. Furthermore, 503 of its delegates had either direct or indirect links with the fossil fuel industry, a delegation group larger than that of any individual country.
Coca-Cola was concluded to be the worst brand, with a spokesperson describing the corporation to The Guardian as “the world’s top plastic polluter.”
COP27, due to be held between the 6th and 18th of November, is already mired in similar controversy thanks to the sponsorship deal struck between the UN and Coca-Cola in a move which has been labelled ‘baffling’ by the CEO of Greenpeace. The alliance Break Free From Plastic, founded by volunteers, conducts annual brand audits of discarded waste plastic and over the span of four years, Coca-Cola was concluded to be the worst brand. A spokesperson described the corporation to The Guardian as “the world’s top plastic polluter.”
Coca-Cola has been criticised for the extent of its plastic pollution for years. In 2018, they finally committed to recapturing every bottle they sell by 2030 so that none of their bottles end up as litter, or in the oceans. Coca-Cola also committed to having globally 50% of their bottles made from recycled material. The aim is then to recycle each bottle’s plastic into new bottles. These plans were detailed in their ‘World Without Waste’ report, an echo of similar anti-waste initiatives, supported by the corporation such as Keep America Beautiful. Coca Cola has supported this anti-littering NGO since its inception in 1953, however, it can be considered a failure given the 50 billion pieces of litter estimated to exist on US ground. Interestingly enough, although Keep America Beautiful blames plastic manufacturers, public officials, civil society, and the recycling industry in its report, it does not implicate the mega-corporations such as Coca-Cola utilising plastic in their products.
In a world where there is more and more financial pressure on companies to give the appearance of being sustainable, this latest move by Coca-Cola is unsurprising.
Critics of Coca-Cola can also point to other facets of the company’s history, such as the bottling plant which opened in Gaza in 2015 (which would end up bombed into destruction by Israel in May 2021), in spite of the existing water shortage faced by Palestinians. This occurred just shortly after the forced closure of one of their plants in Mehdiganj, India, due to its depletion of local groundwater and illegal pollution activity. In a world where there is more and more financial pressure on companies to give the appearance of being sustainable, this latest move by Coca-Cola is unsurprising.
‘Greenwashing,’ is the term given to organisations which manipulate PR in attempts to persuade the public that they are environmentally-friendly, even when all evidence appears to the contrary. It is far more convenient for Coca-Cola to spend millions on campaigns, like Keep America Beautiful and summits like COP27, than it is for the organisation to critically examine and overhaul its methods of production, given that the latter would affect its profit – which as it stands, from September 2021 to September 2022, was $25 billion. In 2021, the environmental organisation Earth Island Institute filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola, claiming “false advertising in the company’s marketing.” If Earth Island Institute win their case (which is currently pending), Coca-Cola will be forced to drop words like ‘sustainable’ from their branding.
Perhaps nothing says ‘out of touch’ with the gravity of the climate crisis as allowing the “world’s top plastic polluter” to fund your conference.
Given the evident state of Coca-Cola’s relationship with environmentalists, the decision to allow Coca-Cola’s sponsorship feels symptomatic of every criticism levied at COP. Perhaps nothing says ‘out of touch’ with the gravity of the climate crisis as allowing the ‘world’s top plastic polluter’ to fund your conference. This doesn’t bode well for COP27 and will likely hang ominously over the conference as it unfolds.