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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

OPINIONBusinessOctober 11, 2022

Why is Coca-Cola sponsoring the UN climate change convention?

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

One of the world’s top polluters has been announced as the sponsor for Cop27. Is it a sign the company is finally taking the climate crisis seriously, or some kind of joke?

It’s either madness or genius for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to announce the world’s largest fossil fuel plastic polluter as its sponsor for Cop27.

Unless this is a spectacular stunt to foreshadow Coca-Cola’s commitment to eradicate the three million metric tons of plastic packaging it spews into our oceans or reduce its annual carbon footprint of 5.49 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions to become net positive, it must be a joke.

Surely the realisation we are living on borrowed time, and every gram of carbon and plastic making its way into our atmosphere and oceans is poison, has reached The Coca-Cola Company boardroom?

OK, we can’t expect perfection (full disclosure: I own shares in a soft drinks company called Karma Drinks, and I’m writing this on a plane). But a hint of humility acknowledging that they, being a big part of the problem, can offer a significant solution would go a long way.

The world doesn’t need fizzy drinks, nevertheless we love them. We drink over 1.9 billion Coca-Cola company branded drinks a day. Why not make that a good thing? We’ll happily show them how it’s done – that’s what we do!

Cop invites sponsors who represent the best of business on climate change and the environment. “Leaders in their industry, driving positive change and innovation towards a lower carbon world.”

As recently as January 2020, Coca-Cola’s head of sustainability, Bea Perez, confirmed at Davos that the brand would not ditch single-use plastic bottles because people “still want them”. WTAF!

At the same World Economic Forum Conference, the year before, David Attenborough addressed Davos on behalf of every living thing on the planet and said we need to get on with the practical task at hand, which clearly means “stop bullshitting each other”.

“If people can truly understand what is at stake, I believe they will give permission to business and governments to get on with the practical solutions.

And as a species we are expert problem-solvers. But we haven’t yet applied ourselves to this problem with the focus it requires.

We can create a world with clean air and water, unlimited energy, and fish stocks that will sustain us well into the future.

But to do that we need a plan.”

Sir David Attenborough at the World Economic Forum 2019

Coca-Cola is one of the world’s top polluters, embroiled in water scandals, human rights abuses and plastic pollution. Placing them at the heart of the Cop27 climate summit undermines the intentions of the conference from day one.

If they think consumers are encouraging them to destroy the planet, we should probably speak up about it, and make some constructive suggestions.

If multinationals like Coca-Cola were serious about combating the climate crisis and plastic pollution, what could they do?

“Cutting plastic production and ending single-use plastic is in line with the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees. If Coca-Cola really wants to solve the plastic and climate crisis, it needs to turn off its plastics tap. Ending Coca-Cola’s addiction to single-use plastic is an important part of moving away from fossil fuels, protecting communities, and combating climate change.”

John Hocevar, Greenpeace oceans campaign director

Coca-Cola produces 120 billion throwaway plastic bottles a year – and 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels. These are the two major problems to solve: plastic pollution and carbon emissions. Our reliance and an abundance of both are at the root of it, and since plastic is a by-product of the petrochemical industry there’s only one problem.

“It’s easy to forget that ultimately the emergency of the climate crisis comes down to a single number – the measure of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.”

Sir David Attenborough at Cop26

Commitments to reduce carbon emissions and increase the number of recycled materials in supply chains are laudable. Depending on the claim, Coca-Cola have said they’ll become net zero by 2040 or 2050. However, the Climate Action 100+ assessment is that the company does not meet any short-term GHG reduction targets. The indicator of future performance most business analysts rely on is past performance.

Other companies have shown it’s possible to turn the oil tankers around. All Birds declare the carbon footprint of its shoes on its shoes, keeping them and their customers focussed on the thing they need to improve. Patagonia has invited the future of our planet into its boardroom by making Earth the company’s only shareholder.

Both these companies have another thing in common — they are B Corps — businesses who’ve put their commitment to social and environmental change at the heart of their brands and are endeavouring to use market forces as a force for good.

Follow When the Facts Change on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Certified B Corporations are verified by a non-profit organisation that assesses companies based on how they create value for non-shareholding stakeholders, such as their employees, the local community, and the environment. Once a firm crosses a certain performance threshold, it makes amendments to its company charter to incorporate the interests of all stakeholders into the fiduciary duties of directors and executives.

Let’s challenge any company making claims about saving the planet to embrace the same kind of scrutiny and get on with it.

Simon Coley is the co-founder Karma Drinks and All Good.

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