Activists and Scientists Take PR Firms and Ad Firms to Task for Greenwashing

Activists and scientists target greenwashing

Clean Creatives, a project targeting advertisers who work for fossil fuel companies, published the "F-List," cataloging advertisers and PR groups that spread "climate misinformation" to support fossil fuel companies and other clients. Edelman, one of the largest public relations firms in the world, found itself on the list and responded last Friday by vowing to drop clients that do not comply with the firm's climate commitments. Edelman also recently told employees that it would "put science and facts first" when working with clients.

Climate scientists have also joined the cause. The following in from an open letter to PR firms written by hundreds of climate scientists:

As scientists who study and communicate the realities of climate change, we are consistently faced with a major and needless challenge: overcoming advertising and PR efforts by fossil fuel companies that seek to obfuscate or downplay our data and the risks posed by the climate crisis.

Greenpeace: Uncovering polluters' offsetting scams, October 26, 2021.

Al Jazeera: Should fossil fuel advertising be regulated?, October 20, 2021.

Why This Matters

The PR, consulting, and advertising industries may not be big emitters themselves, but they work with and represent carbon-intensive client companies. And the service they provide is minimizing the perceived effects their clients have on climate change. A paper by Robert Brulle, a visiting professor at Brown University, showed that PR firms can be "key organisational actor[s] in climate politics." Results of such tactics include the term "clean coal," the downplayed environmental cost of natural gas, and even death threats on climate scientists. Messaging has massive implications on how people understand the gravity of global warming.

Now This: Sheldon Whitehouse on Greenwashing and Fossil Fuel Industry, May 14, 2021.

Activists Fight Back

This campaign from Clean Creatives is part of a larger movement in which many consultants, law students, and activists are fighting firms in their respective fields that represent fossil fuel interests. To date, Clean Creatives has convinced 220 smaller agencies to reject fossil fuel campaigns.

Meanwhile, 1,100 McKinsey employees signed a letter last year that said the consultancy's "inaction on (or perhaps assistance with)" its clients' environmental pollution could not go on. And law students have called for a boycott of Gibson Dunne, a law firm that represented Chevron and the corporation behind the Dakota Pipeline.

Governments are also beginning to go after advertisers that spread climate misinformation. The UK Competition and Markets Authority has started to investigate misleading "greenwashing." While in the US, the House Oversight Committee heald a hearing in October where requested information from ExxonMobil and other oil companies on their advertising campaigns that "spread disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming." The committee is holding a second hearing next month on February 8th.

VICE: The Fossil Fuel Industry Wants You to Think It’s Solving Climate Change, July 14, 2021.