Greenwash of the Month: Coke’s New Green Image Canned by BPA

In 2010, “Coca-cola went green” according to a Forbes article.  Yes, the beverage behemoth has hopped on the “green-your-corporation-for-a-better-public-image” bandwagon, starting partnerships with Big Green groups Conservation International (who’s having their own problems after being caught on tape offering to help conduct a greenwash effort for representatives of a faux arms dealer)  and World Wildlife Fund.

But what has this so-called “green” company been in the news for lately? While other companies are pursuing safer alternatives,  Coca-Cola is refusing to address concerns about its use of the controversial chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) in its soda cans.

Shareholder activist groups brought a resolution to the recent Coke annual meeting, citing the health risks of BPA and calling on the company to produce a report on the risks to the company from its use of BPA and on the company’s work on seeking safer alternatives. While just 26% of shareholders voted in support of the resolution, the shareholder groups noted that other companies have responded to pressure from much smaller proportions of their owners.

But not Coke. Despite the vote, the company intends to continue use of the toxic industrial chemical that has been banned in Canada and many European countries.

A company executive told shareholders, “If we had any sliver of doubt about the safety of our packaging, we would not continue to use BPA.”

No sliver of a doubt?

How about this for doubt:  Scientific American recently reported that dozens of scientists around the globe have linked BPA to myriad health effects in rodents: mammary and prostate cancer, genital defects in males, early onset of puberty in females, obesity, and even behavior problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.  It also damages genes and disrupts our hormones.

The evidence of BPA health hazards keeps growing, as the number of scientists and medical professionals find more and more links to negative health effects from BPA.  A recent study presented at the Pediatric Academic Society annual meeting showed that BPA exposure among pregnant mothers led to heightened risk of childhood asthma in babies.

So why does Coke refuse to eliminate BPA?  For corporations, cost and the bottom-line come before everything else. By refusing to seek safer liner alternatives, Coke is choosing to put their corporate profit over their customers’ health (maybe not surprising for a company that profits primarily from sugar-sweetened water products).

Think about that heart-warming idea the next time you open a can of coke.

Read the full Grist story on Coca-Cola and the limits of “green capitalism” here.