Cool Coalition

Unilever, Coca Cola and McDonalds ditch climate-wrecking refrigeration

Feature story - 22 June, 2004
Unilever, Coca Cola and McDonalds have promised to phase out climate-killing chemicals in their refrigeration equipment. This announcement shows that refrigeration can be climate friendly. However other corporations and governments continue to promote or lobby for increased use of climate-wrecking gases.

Production of more environmentally friendly Greenfreeze refrigerators in China.

When the dramatic discovery of the ozone hole in 1986 forced the banning of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's), the refrigeration industry switched to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). While this stopped depletion of the ozone layer, it meant introducing a new potent greenhouse gas. It was an environmental case of "out of the frying pan into the fire."


To highlight the madness of this switch and show how it should be done we launched the concept of Greenfreeze in 1992. We met two scientists who pointed out how to avoid HFC's altogether. We found an old fridge factory, appealed to our supporters to pre-order enough units to finance a refit, helped build the market and Greenfreeze was born.

It uses natural gases so avoids both depleting the ozone layer and fuelling global warming. The chemical industry said it would never work and the big refrigeration users lined up with their friends in the industry to dismiss our claims.

Today there are over 100 million Greenfreeze refrigerators in the world, produced by all the major European, Chinese, Japanese and Indian manufacturers. It is now available in most major markets with the exception of North America.

While Greenfreeze technology gradually gained a foothold in the domestic market in the late 1990's, large commercial users continued to use refrigeration that causes global warming. In the run up to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 we targeted big refrigeration users such as Unilever, Coke and McDonalds, all Olympic sponsors, to live up to the guidelines of the green games which excluded HFC's.

Coke caved in after being faced with a concerted internet campaign before the 2000 Olympics to buy green refrigeration for new units. Before the start of the games all three companies announced phase out plans for damaging refrigeration technologies by the time of the 2004 Olympics.

Now these companies have announced more concrete plans for how to phase out HFC's. Our Executive Director, Gerd Leipold welcomed the announcement: "Greenpeace welcomes the commitments made by Unilever, Coca-Cola and McDonald's. We call on their competitors, such as Nestle, Pepsi and Burger King, to follow suit. But corporate action is only half the picture. For a complete solution, governments must act. Politicians can't sit back and wait for the market to deliver, because on its own, it won't."

Under attack

Despite this good news the trend is looking bleak. Left unchecked, by 2050 HFC's will do as much damage to the climate as the traffic fumes of all the world's passenger cars.

To force all companies and industry to meet the high standards of these three companies effective government regulation is the only solution.

Worryingly even the current ineffective regulation of HFC's is under attack. American industry is leading the charge for wider use of HFC's in uses such as car air conditioners. Ford motor company is one example of a pro-HFC's corporation. Like the US chemicals industries meddling in new European Union chemical law, the "European" industry lobby group for HFC's was actually set up in US state of Virginia.

The way ahead

If companies like McDonalds, Unilever and Coca Cola, who are far from 'all round environmental angels', can go HFC free then there is no reason why their competitors cannot follow their lead. It also exposes the lies and misinformation spread by irresponsible industry lobbying. Goverments should follow the progressive stance of these three companies and adopt an immediate phase-out of HFCs.