Study Confirms Oil Companies are Greenwashing

Study Confirms Oil Companies are Greenwashing

Big oil companies all talk about their commitments to clean energy and a greener future. But that's not reflected in their actions, a new study affirms. The researchers looked at four major oil companies -- Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell -- and found that while they have increasingly used language like "climate," "low-carbon," and "transition" in company reports, the lion's share of their business is still in traditional fossil fuels. From 2009 to 2020, BP and Shell increased their oil and gas exploration area while making statements about reducing their fossil fuel projects.

Reuters: 'Cash machine' BP sees Q3 profit jump, November 2, 2021.

Why This Matters

The International Energy Agency tells us that ramping down fossil fuel exploration to zero in the next decades is one of the most important, most straightforward actions that must be taken to slow the climate crisis. Oil companies, like the ones called out in the report, spent decades pushing the narrative that their products were safe and sowing doubt about climate change. Now that the impact of fossil fuel use is undeniable, their language is changing, but without action, it's simply greenwashing -- and their fossil fuel products continue to harm public health and warm the earth.

As the report authors succinctly put it: "[T]he transition to clean energy business models is not occurring...Until actions and investment behavior are brought into alignment with discourse, accusations of greenwashing appear well-founded."

Reuters: 2021 saw jump in greenhouse-gas emissions, says report, January 10, 2022.

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

The F-List

Climate disinformation and big oil messaging can travel farther with compelling communications. Earlier this year, a project called Climate Creatives published their F-List: a catalog of advertisers and PR firms that worked with fossil fuel clients and spread climate disinformation. Messaging makes a huge difference in how people understand climate and energy issues -- phrases like "clean coal" and "natural gas" undermine the dangerous harms of both. In an article, co-author and visiting professor at Brown University, Robert Brulle states, "analysis shows that PR firms are a key organizational actor in climate politics."

Cleo Abram: Fracking for Clean Energy. Wait, What?, January 18, 2022.

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

ENDEVR: How Oil Companies Hid the Truth About Climate Change (Documentary), November 24, 2021.