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Environmental Institute Accuses Coca-Cola Of Greenwashing In Lawsuit

A large group of Coca-Cola red cans stacked in a supermarket in Spain.

The Earth Island Institute has begun legal action against Coca-Cola for ‘false and deceptive marketing’ that represents the company as ‘sustainable and environmentally friendly’.

In the case, filed the to Superior Court of the District of Columbia, the Earth Island Institute claims that the image Coca-Cola presents is at odds with it “being one of the largest contributors to plastic pollution in the world.”

The introduction to the lawsuit argues that consumers have increasing concerns about environmental issues – a fact Coca-Cola knows – and that consumers are, therefore, “willing to seek out services of products that are less harmful to the environment”.

It then goes on to say that because of this, “some companies that produce significant amounts of plastic pollution are beginning to advertise themselves as environmentally friendly.”

They do this to counter that consumer idea that “certain industries are engaged in activities that cause environmental and human health harms.”

According to the Changing Markets Foundation, which is cited in the lawsuit, Coke is the biggest plastic waste producer of any company in the world. It produces 2.9 million metric tons of plastic waste every year.

The lawsuit also contains references to Coke’s sustainable business commitments, such as their ‘Every Bottle Back’ initiative and statements on sustainable packaging.

Indeed, on Coke’s Australian website, for example, they detail some of their environmental initiatives. The Australian arm of the company says that 70 per cent of their plastic bottle production uses recycled plastic. In Australia, Coke has also committed to collecting and recycling one bottle or can for every one sold by 2030.

On the global site, it has committed to making 100 per cent of packaging globally recyclable by 2025, and to use at least 50 per cent recycled material in packaging by 2030.

The suit alleges that “through this advertising approach – presenting itself both individually and as a member of the American Beverage Association – Coca Cola portrays itself as committed to the principles of a circular economy and taking personal responsibility for the plastic waste it produces.”

In a statement to the Earth Island Journal, the publishing arm of Earth Island Institute, Julia Cohen said “we want the Coca-Cola company to stop the greenwashing and false claims, be transparent about the plastic they use, and be a leader in investing in deposit and refill programs for the health of humans, animals, waterways, the ocean, and our environment.”

Cohen is the co-founder and managing director of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, an Earth Island project.

Sumona Majumdar, general counsel for Earth Island institute also told the Journal that, “with this lawsuit we are simply asking that Coca-Cola be honest with consumers about its plastic use so that consumers can make informed purchasing decisions.”

Rather than suing for damages, the Institute is instead aiming to stop ‘deceptive practices‘. They are calling for a trial by jury.

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