Leading Global Fact-Check Organization Finds Greenwashing More Pervasive Than Ever

Leading Global Fact Check Organization Finds Greenwashing More Pervasive Than Ever

AFP Fact Check produced a new report on greenwashing in the oil industry. Scoring was based on how reliably companies’ public statements align with their lobbying efforts. The results are grim. Every company surveyed was seen to be lobbying against their climate goals, with the worst culprits being Aramco, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Gazprom, and Petrobras. In many cases, these companies’ lobbying costs for oil interests far exceed the amounts they pledged towards their climate commitments.

The AFP report reinforces other research that shows Big Oil companies aren’t backing up their public statements about fighting climate change. For example, another recent study analyzed advertising from Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell and found that while they may be more likely to use language like "climate," "low-carbon," and "transition" in company reports, the majority of their business is still in traditional fossil fuels.

Now This: Everything You Need to Know About Greenwashing, Jan 22, 2021.

CNBC: How ExxonMobil Will Survive In The New Climate Reality, June 24, 2022.

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

Why This Matters

Greenwashing can be hard to spot by design, relying on the dissonance between the big changes a company advertises and what it does behind the scenes. But it’s just as pervasive and misleading as outright climate denial. Another analysis by InfluenceMap showed the five biggest listed oil and gas companies spent $1 billion to promote climate misinformation through "branding and lobbying" in the three years following the Paris Agreement. These actions seriously inhibit corporate accountability from both the government and the public.

"This 'greenwashing' is essentially a tactic to delay government regulation. It also has the potential to mislead the public, by convincing them that action is already being taken on climate while Big Oil continues to lobby behind the scenes for new oil and gas development,” said InfluenceMap program manager Faye Holder.

"Greenwashing is the new climate denial," Laurence Tubiana, head of the European Climate Foundation philanthropic group, told AFP last year.

Valero Energy: Valero for Life, December 30, 2021.

Our Changing Climate: Why Companies Need to Greenwash, February 11, 2022.

Social Media's Role

Social media has largely failed to prevent greenwashing. In May 2021, Facebook (rebranded as Meta) promised to attach "informational labels" to posts about climate change, directing users to the platform's new "Climate Science Center." But a recent study discovered that 50.5% of the most popular posts featuring climate disinformation weren’t labeled.

Tech companies stand to profit from climate misinformation. Eco-Bot.net calculated that Facebook and Instagram earned some $5 million in revenues from "greenwashing" ads on social media during the COP26 summit in November 2021. Fossil fuel companies are spending millions on Google Ads designed to look like regular search results for climate-related terms. Out of more than 1,600 ads that appeared in Google searches using 78 climate change-related keywords, more than 20% promoted companies "with significant interests in fossil fuels."

Pinterest is a notable exception to this dispiriting trend. It prohibits ads that spread any doubt about climate change’s existence or that it has been caused by humans.

Moreover, scientists and advertising firms alike are banding together to stop climate disinformation. Earlier this year, 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.” Climate scientists also wrote an open letter to PR firms arguing that one of the main frustrations of their job is “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.”

TED: The Dirty Strategies Behind Climate Misinformation | Harriet Kingaby, January 8, 2021.

Denial, Doubt, Delay

A new docuseries The Power of Big Oil on PBS digs into the industry and its strategy to promote denial and progress its agenda. Viewers are offered a close examination of all sides of the campaigns and intentional manipulation of oil giants. Watch Part I: Denial here, Part II: Doubt here, and Part III: Delay here.

Democracy Now: Bill McKibben | Latest IPCC Climate Report Underscores “Fossil Fuel Is at the Root of Our Problems,” April 7, 2021.

NYU Environmental Studies: The Long Game | How Big Oil Delayed Climate Action For Four Decades (with Ben Franta), November 11, 2021.