Is COP losing credibility over corporate sponsorship deals?

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The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) is underway in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Running from November 6 – 18, COP27 will see representatives from around 200 countries build on the outcomes of COP26 to promote climate action.

The United Nations’ annual international conference offers a space for the world’s nations to meet and discuss the climate emergency. Yet this year seems to be more focused on the sponsor, Coca-Cola.


Bottled Up

The Coca-Cola/COP sponsorship agreement was signed by the Egyptian Government at the foreign ministry in Cairo, at which Coca-Cola’s vice-president of operations for North Africa, Ahmed Rady, 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.” (1) 

Coca-Cola even says it has plans to make its packaging recyclable worldwide by 2025 and use at least 50% recycled material in their packaging by 2030. (2) It also produced 900 prototype bottles in 2021 made almost entirely of plant-based plastic, excluding the cap and the label. This all sounds good, right?  

Not so fast. Break Free From Plastic (3) have named Coca-Cola as the world’s top plastic polluter for over four years. And reports show Coca-Cola’s use of virgin plastic, by volume, has increased by 3% in the past two years. (2) So, we have to ask, are these promises really enough?  


Together 4... Profit?

For a conference coordinating a series of dedicated events under the banner ‘Together 4 Transparency’, highlighting successes and best practices in aspects of transparency of climate action, COP27 has made an interesting—and an unusual- choice in picking Coca-Cola as its lead sponsor.

For one, it is a mismatch. Coca-Cola has been called out by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as running the risk of its environmental ambitions ‘almost certainly not being met,’ questioning the validity of Coca-Cola’s transparency when it comes to climate action. (4) 

Second, it is uncommon for multilateral meetings to have commercial backing. Sustainability consultant and environmental activist, Georgia Elliott-Smith, set up an online petition to call on the U.N. to stop accepting corporate sponsorship and to stop enabling major polluters to ‘greenwash their brands, piggybacking on critical climate talks.’ (5) 

While we fully support global corporations’ involvement in the conversation around making positive changes to preventing further damage to our climate, we cannot ignore the glaring conflicts of interest. In 2021, COP26 sponsorships were said to have been worth around £250 million to the organisers. The 11 sponsors generated £260 billion in revenue and emitted 375 million tonnes of carbon (6) – that is more than the entire United Kingdom in 2021. 

But this mismatch isn’t new to COP. Back in 2015, environmental journalist Gareth Simkins’ panel on journalism and climate change was ‘canned due to lack of venue’, yet Reckitt secured a slot at the climate event for a Dettol hygiene program targeted at children… During the same year, there were also reports that delegates, including Greenpeace, were turned away from sessions on carbon emissions in the mining industry, in favour of, yep you guessed it…attendees from fossil fuel companies and politicians. (7) 

COP26 also saw a ‘Decarbonizing fossil fuels’ panel hosted by the CEO of Shell. At the time the company were lobbying to develop a new oilfield off the UK’s Shetland Islands, prompting a fellow speaker and activist to storm off stage, after accusing the panel of greenwashing. (6)  


Time to Bottle Out, Coca-Cola

Has everyone lost sight of why the Conference of the Parties was inaugurated? Global leaders are meant to be engaged in urgent decision-making talks to monitor and review the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, not promoting the world’s top plastic polluter. It’s completely backwards and needs to end; it’s time to bottle out, Coca-Cola. 

As for the future of sponsorship for COP, transparency will be key when drawing in huge sums of money from corporate sponsors. It’s important to start a brand partnership on honest footing to create trust and loyalty. There must be a clear overview of mutual benefits, purpose led objectives and a genuine interest in the topic at hand. Both organising bodies and corporates/brands have a duty to demonstrate the steps they have taken, and are taking, to improve their impact on the world. Here at Creature & Co., we’ve put together a quick sense check for brand partnerships: 


  • Alignment
    When it comes to a successful partnership, both parties must agree on a shared vision and operating values. Issues may arise when it comes to the funds required by organising bodies from sponsors. Unfortunately, many big brands, with less than desirable sustainable credentials, often have bigger sponsorship budgets meaning well-intentioned, smaller sustainable players become priced out. However, it is important to look for players with ethics that align with the brand partnership’s sustainable goals, rather than those who are contributing to the world’s challenges.


  • Allocation of funds
    When dealing with major global corporations, it should be clear where/how sponsorship money is coming and going. For example, a certain amount should go to running the event, supporting related initiatives versus kickbacks to the organisers. Transparency is essential and should be expected of any charity/non-profit organisation.


  • Intent
    Do sponsorship companies really want to become more sustainable, or are they compensating for weaknesses by connecting to responsible brands? Preferential treatment shouldn’t be given to larger corporations, but instead opportunities should be given based on partnership intent. It’s important to conduct thorough data driven research into whether a potential partner is engaging in greenwashing.
    Check out our 6-point checklist to creating sustainability initiatives to help make sure all parties involved start with good intentions.

As always, our door is always open for a free, informative chat if you’d like to discuss anything in this article or if you want to ensure your company is making a positive impact. We’d love to hear from you! 

[email protected] 





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