GREEN groups have questioned Keep Scotland Beautiful’s decision to enter into a partnership with Coca-Cola.

The charity, which, according to its website, “campaigns, acts and educates on a range of local, national and global environmental issues to change behaviour and improve the quality of people’s lives and the places they care for” is launching a new partnership in a restaurant in Edinburgh tonight for its Local Environment Champions project, which receives nearly all of its funding from Coca-Cola.

The project was developed to help organisations who have received Keep Scotland Beautiful funding to network and co-ordinate local projects.

One organisation that relies heavily on the funding, which only spoke to The National on condition of anonymity, was worried that by taking part in a Coca-Cola-backed project they were allowing the multinational to use their work as a “greenwash” - the process where a company supports environmental projects to make itself appear green.

Coca-Cola’s environmental record has been much criticised over the years. In a 2013 report, Oxfam accused the company of being responsible for land disputes in Cambodia and Brazil where villagers and fisherman were thrown off land that was used to build sugar mills for the company.

A new book, Citizen Coke, alleges that one of the company’s bottling plants in India had resulted in wells running dry and rivers being polluted. The company denies these claims.

Dr Richard Dixon from Friends of the Earth Scotland said he found Keep Scotland Beuatiful’s decision to team up with the company unusual.

He said: “Everyone understands that money for good works is in short supply but Coke is a strange partner for Keep Scotland Beautiful. They have caused major water contamination issues in India in the past and are currently actively opposing schemes to reduce waste in Australia.”

A spokesperson for Keep Scotland Beautiful defended the partnership, saying: “Coca-Cola Enterprises has been a valuable and helpful partner to Keep Scotland Beautiful  for a number of years, most recently funding our programme to celebrate and support Scotland’s unsung champions to take action in their local community. We work with private, public and voluntary organisations who want to help us in our goal to make Scotland a cleaner, greener and more sustainable country.

“In supporting volunteers to do more for their community and more for Scotland, Coca-Cola Enterprises is behaving as a company which is acknowledging its role and responsibilities.

“Those who would cut us off from valuable partners like Coca-Cola Enterprises for ideological reasons should examine their own environmental credentials.”

The groups involved in the Local Environmental Championship programme are taken from community groups involved in key Keep Scotland Beautiful activities with the Climate Challenge Fund, Eco-Schools, Clean Up Scotland and Beautiful Scotland. Some of these projects are supported by the Scottish Government, whose Greener Scotland website lists Coca-Cola as a Recycling Partner. During the Royal Highland Show, Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead visited the Coca-Cola environment stand and said the company was helping “towards building a better future for all”.

Coca-Cola Enterprises has backed environmental causes in the past. It have sponsored recycling awareness campaigns with Tesco and been heavily involved in Earth Day. The company recently changed to bottling its drinks in a container partly made from plant materials. Scott Vitters from Coca-Cola said: “We don’t view the environmental community as outside of our engagement, we’re hand in hand.”

The company, worth £46.5 billion, employs 4,000 people in the UK including 155 at a plant in East Kilbride.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government spokesman emphasised the success of the Climate Challenge Fund, saying:  “Some of the best initiatives to reduce carbon are devised and delivered at a local level. Beyond doubt, the Climate Challenge Fund is making a real difference in our transition to a low-carbon future.”

Yesterday, Keep Scotland Beautiful announced a new partnership with Irn-Bru makers AG Barr to tackle litter in Scotland. Roger White, chief executive of AG Barr, said: “Litter is a blight on our landscape and as a responsible company we want to play our part in encouraging everyone to do the right thing and dispose of their soft drinks packaging properly.”