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Why rivals like PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Unilever and P&G are joining forces


Corporate Collaborations

Strength in numbers: Corporate competitors are working together to help address environmental issues. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images


Powered by article titled “Why rivals like PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Unilever and P&G are joining forces” was written by Oliver Balch, for on Thursday 23rd October 2014 11.22 UTC


At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, environmental campaign group Greenpeace ran a global campaign depicting a polar bear balancing on a lonely piece of ice. The campaign’s focus was the damage to the ozone layer caused by fluorinated gases, such as HFCs. And its target was global drinks giant Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola subsequently joined with Unilever and McDonald’s to form the Refrigerants Naturally! partnership. Created in 2004, the business-led coalition has two founding aims: to promote the sale of refrigeration units free of fluorinated gases (“F gas free”); and, to push for a regulatory framework that encourages climate-friendly alternatives.

“The idea of doing this together rather than separately is mostly to provide an example of what is possible,” says Antoine Azar, chair of Refrigerants Naturally!.

Another motivation for industry cooperation is strength in numbers. Over the last decade, the campaign’s members have fed into policy debates concerning fluorinated gases at a national level, as well as through international fora such as the Montreal Protocol process.

“When it comes to phasing-down or phasing-out HFCs, a letter from all of us has much more impact that individual letters”, notes Azar, who also heads up Coca Cola’s internal efforts to eliminate HFCs.

The campaign is a rare example of corporate competitors working in close alliance. Beverage brands PepsiCo and RedBull have both since joined forces with the initiative’s early partners (although McDonald’s withdrew two years ago).

“Competitors working together to help address environmental issues is definitely a strong message to the industry. Even at Coca-Cola internally, when I say I’ve had a meeting with PepsiCo, they look at me with eyes of surprise,” Azar admits.

Competitor companies obviously need to tread carefully when it comes to collaboration, even when it relates to environmental issues of joint concerns. Back in 2011, for example, Unilever and P&G were judged to have breached European anti-trust laws when they sought to move the market towards lower impact laundry detergents.

To avoid such a scenario, the group’s members read out the EU’s statement on competition law every time they meet and commit to its precepts. Third parties, such as UNEP and Greenpeace, are also invited to sit in on their biannual meetings (both organisations are non-business members of the campaign).

The active participation of Greenpeace adds particular credibility to the initiative given the group’s critical stance of business as well as its role in the group’s origins. “Having Greenpeace as a supporter partner sends out the right message to the industry – that things are possible and we’re moving ahead,” says Azar.

To date, Coca-Cola and Unilever have installed over 1.5m and 1.2m F-gas-free refrigeration units of various sizes across their global operations. As a whole, the coalition counts around 3.5m such units. One of the main hopes of the group’s members is that developing nations such as China and India will see that F-gas-free equipment is technically feasible and will choose it above traditional options containing fluorinated gases.

The Sustainable Living Hub is funded by Unilever. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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