Coca Cola at Copenhagen: Can a Multinational Work in the Environment’s Best Interest?

Coca Cola hopenhagen posters

All eyes are on Copenhagen this month as the drama events of the UN Climate Change Conference play out. But those eyes aren’t just the ones of climate change activists and greenies. Multinationals are just as involved – even global beverage giant, Coca Cola, is descending on the Danish capital.

Working with other media, marketing, tech and creative partners, including DuPont and Gap Inc., Coca Cola was instrumental in launching the Hopenhagen campaign. The result? An interactive online campaign as well as lots of exposure on the ground in Copenhagen. Known for its creative advertising and branding, Coca Cola released a special Hopenhagen set of posters, seen all over town for the duration of the conference.

On Coca Cola’s Hopenhagen website, the company encourages visitors to take action against climate change and learn more about recycling and water as well as Coca Cola’s plant bottle, a soda bottle made form 30% plant-based materials (that means it’s still 70% plastic!). But supporting a good cause shouldn’t come without questions.

coca cola hopenhagen

Although the company now supports several sustainability initiatives, most notably a partnership with the WWF that promotes water conservation, Coca Cola certainly has its flaws.

Earlier this year, Coca Cola found itself on a list of companies with factories causing major water pollution in the Chinese capital of Beijing. This summer, the Environmental Working Group called upon Coca Cola to protect consumers from the hazards of BPA, after a Coca Cola representative joined a group of lobbyists in a meeting to talk about the “fear tactics” used in the market in regards to BPA. Some have questioned the company’s tactics in India, and then there are the alleged murders, kidnappings and torture at bottling plants in Colombia, for which The United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund have filed a lawsuit against Coca Cola.

Beyond environmental and humanitarian complaints, Coca Cola also uses high fructose corn syrup to sweeten its US beverages, another minus point on the sustainability list.

So what should we think about Coca Cola and Hopenhagen? Yes, the campaign is a conglomerate of big business, but in a world where business is often a driver of change, multinationals are needed to step up to the plate, and this is a good example. However, it’s equally important to ask whether the support companies are giving is genuine or simply an attempt at the kind of marketing that will benefit them (aka greenwash).

At the end of the day, Coca Cola is a business and businesses want to make money. But, if Coca Cola achieves its goals of doubling serving sales to 3 billion per day in 2020, how and where the beverage is produced, how much water it takes and what it’s bottled in will be even more crucial in terms of the company’s footprint, no matter how much positive marketing goes into making the company look green.

Image credits: Coca Cola

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.