Coca-Cola to fund polar bear research

Soft drink giant Coca-Cola Tuesday unveiled changes to its iconic can and pledged million of dollars to fund research programs in Canada's Arctic related to habitat and wildlife survival.
Coca-Cola Ltd. announced Tuesday it is changing its iconic can and pledging millions of dollars to help fund research programs in the Arctic related to habitat and wildlife survival, particularly with regard to polar bears. (Coca-Cola/Canadian Press)
Soft drink giant Coca-Cola Tuesday unveiled changes to its iconic can and pledged millions of dollars to fund research programs in Canada’s Arctic related to habitat and wildlife survival.

Coca-Cola will commit $2 million over five years to a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund in a project called Arctic Home.

It promised another $1 million for matching donations from the public.

The research will have a particular focus on polar bears.

Arctic experts said it's vital work that governments aren't doing as they increasingly focus on research directly related to development.

"This is probably the way we need to go," said Andy Derocher, one of the world's leading polar bear scientists from the University of Alberta.

"We need to find these private partnerships with non-governmental organizations that want to work with northern communities to try to establish long-term conservation monitoring programs," he said.

"We are not seeing that leadership come from the federal government."

Some of the money will go toward conservation, such as migration research or polar bear fences in communities that have lots of nearby bears.

But WWF Canada CEO Gerald Butts said there will also be larger advocacy goals.

"What we're after is looking at all of the change that's going to take place in the Arctic over the next 25 to 60 years and getting ahead of it by predicting where the last permanent sea ice is likely to persist and protect that area, not just for polar bears but for every ice-dependent species in the Arctic."

"The best way to think about it is a chain of networked conservation areas," Butts said.

Can change begins Nov. 1

Those areas are most likely to be found in the High Arctic north of Baffin Island, he added.

Arctic sea ice, vital to polar bears as a hunting platform, has been rapidly shrinking due to climate change.

Global warming will also make it easier to extract Arctic resources, a goal that is increasingly important to federal research efforts.

Coca-Cola Canada president Nicola Kettlitz said the project is a chance to do something for an animal that's been closely associated with the soft drink's image for years.

"It's part of our overall campaign of how we interact with the communities in which we operate," she said. "It will continue to get stronger over time and better."

An indication of how seriously the company takes the campaign is that Coke cans in Canada and the United States will change starting Nov. 1 until Jan. 15 from the well-known red to white.

"Branding is connected to colour and to walk away from your primary colour is an important step," said Kettlitz. "It makes a very big statement of support."

With files from The Canadian Press