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Coca-Cola: Marketing top, sustainability flop

| Bild: Facing Finance

There is hardly anyone who does not think of a convoy of truckers making their way through the winter landscape at night and the lights on the houses glowing at the first bars of the Christmas classic Wonderful Dream. Like hardly any other brand, the red and white curved lettering of The Coca-Cola Company has shaped the magic and nostalgia of the Christmas season. But what does the company have to offer beyond its iconic advertising history?

With net operating revenues of more than 38 billion US dollars and more than 200 different beverage brands such as Fanta, Sprite and Innocent, Coca-Cola was on of the largest beverage producers in the world in 2021.[1] A good 20 of its brands generate annual retail sales of more than one billion US dollars.[2]

Apart from materials such as aluminium or glass, Coca-Cola uses almost 50% plastic for its beverage packaging, predominantly PET, which at least has the best recyclability among plastics.[3] In 2021, the company consumed 3,224,395 tonnes of plastic, an increase of 8% compared to 2019 – quite contrary to the lyrical promises of a “world without waste”.[4] 86% of the plastic comes from fossil sources, less than 1% from renewable materials and 13.6% from recycled plastic. Only 1.3% of the company’s plastic packaging is considered reusable.[5]

Coca-Cola’s plastic pollution is considered among the highest in the consumer goods industry. Since 2018, the company’s products have left behind more litter than PepsiCo and Nestlé combined, according to the latest evaluation by the civil society movement Break Free From Plastic. Volunteers in 78 countries have collected a total of 85,035 Coca-Cola plastic packaging during numerous clean-up campaigns over the years.[6]

The organisation Tearfund comes to a similar conclusion: together with PepsiCo, Nestlé and Unilever, Coca-Cola is already responsible for half a million tonnes of improperly discarded or incinerated plastic per year in six countries of the Global South studied.[7] Although Coca-Cola has the lowest turnover among the four companies, it tops the list with 200,000 tonnes of annual plastic pollution – enough to cover 33 soccer fields with plastic waste every day. Burning plastic releases about 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in the countries studied. This is equivalent to about 4.8 billion bottles burned per year.[8]

One can conclude: The Coca-Cola Company is probably not a sustainable company. Nevertheless, the company is a frequent guest in sustainability funds. In our database Faire Fonds, Coca-Cola appears in 426 funds of Allianz, Deka & Co, of which 229 are so-called ESG funds, i.e. classified as “sustainable”. But the beverage company is not only to be found in the funds of consumers. For example, Deutsche Bank, the British HSBC and the Spanish Santander support Coca-Cola in issuing bonds and have thus directly increased the company’s liquid funds.[9]

Whether they are financiers or investors, they are all responsible for exacerbating the plastic crisis. Ecological minimum requirements must apply to all companies in every investment and every financing decision – no matter how much these companies have shaped this time of year.

For more information on Coca-Cola’s plastic footprint, the beverage company’s promises and the role of European banks, see our Dirty Profits Report 8 starting on p. 45.


This is the second part of our alternative Christmas series. Please support us with your donation so that we can continue to demand more responsibility from corporations and banks. Thank you!


[1] The Coca-Cola Company (2021): “Refresh the World. Make a Difference.” 2021 Business & ESG Report. P. 10. Retrieved 13.12.2022 from: https://d1io3yog0oux5.cloudfront.net/cocacolacompany/files/pages/cocacolacompany/db/761/description/2021_Business_ESG_Report.pdf

[2] The Coca-Cola Company (2015): “The Coca-Cola Company Grows Roster of Billion-Dollar Brands to 20.” Press Release 02.06.2015. Retrieved 13.12.2022 from: https://www.coca-colacompany.com/press-releases/coca-cola-grows-roster-of-billion-dollar-brands-to-20

[3] The Coca-Cola Company (2021): “Refresh the World. Make a Difference.” 2021 Business & ESG Report. P. 36. Retrieved 13.12.2022 from: https://d1io3yog0oux5.cloudfront.net/cocacolacompany/files/pages/cocacolacompany/db/761/description/2021_Business_ESG_Report.pdf

[4] Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2022): Global Commitment Progress Report 2022. Website. Retrieved 13.12.2022 from: https://gc-22.emf.org/detail-ppu/?cid=The%20Coca-Cola%20Company

Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2020): “Organisation report for 2020 reporting cycle: The Coca-Cola Company.” Website. Retrieved 13.12.2022 from: https://archive.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/resources/apply/global-commitment-progress-report/organisation-reports/report/ppu/rec9MNy2Ttzw0iKe8?_ga=2.25111282.974846792.1670964527-200356115.1670964527&_gl=1*16jux8r*_ga*MjAwMzU2MTE1LjE2NzA5NjQ1Mjc.*_ga_V32N675KJX*MTY3MDk2NDUyOC4xLjAuMTY3MDk2NDUyOC42MC4wLjA

[5] Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2022): Global Commitment Progress Report 2022. Website. Retrieved 13.12.2022 from: https://gc-22.emf.org/detail-ppu/?cid=The%20Coca-Cola%20Company

[6] Break Free From Plastic (2022): Branded: Five Years Of Holding Corporate Plastic Polluters Accountable. PP. 18f. Retrieved 13.12.2022 from: https://brandaudit.breakfreefromplastic.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/BRANDED-brand-audit-report-2022.pdf

[7] China, Indien, die Philippinen, Brasilien, Mexiko und Nigeria.

[8] Gower, Rich / Green, Joanne / Williams, Mari (2020): „The Burning Question: Will companies reduce their plastic use?” P. 2, 19, 22. Teddington: Tearfund. Retrieved 13.12.2022 from: https://learn.tearfund.org/-/media/learn/resources/reports/2020-tearfund-the-burning-question-en.pdf

[9] Facing Finance (2022): „Dirty Profits 8: Einweg ohne Ausweg? Plastikprofite von Banken und Konzernen und ihre Folgen für die Umwelt.“ P. 45, 73. Retrieved 13.12.2022 from: https://www.facing-finance.org/de/publications/dirty-profits-8-plastic-profits/