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GREENWASHING

Oil companies and their comms agencies under fire for greenwashing

By our News Team | 2022

Oil giants are ‘talking the talk’ over fossil fuels in their communications, but not ‘walking the walk’, Japanese researchers find.

Four major oil companies, as well as the international advertising and PR industries, are under fire over new claims of greenwashing made in a recently published academic study

The companies are Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP and Shell. They have been labelled as greenwashers by researchers at two Japanese academic institutions, Tohoku University and Kyoto University, in a study published in the journal PLOS One

According to the researchers, the companies used terms like “climate,” “low-carbon” and “transition” more frequently in recent annual reports and devised strategies around decarbonization. But their actions on clean energy were mostly pledges and the companies remain financially reliant on fossil fuels.

Greenwashing

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“We thus conclude that the transition to clean energy business models is not occurring, since the magnitude of investments and actions does not match discourse. Until actions and investment behaviour are brought into alignment with discourse, accusations of greenwashing appear well-founded,” the research team noted.

Using data collected from 2009–2020, the researchers found that the companies often talked about shifting to clean energy, but did not make the dramatic changes that would enable them to make a company-wide transition.

Role of PR companies and ad agencies 

In February, international news business broadcaster CNBC reported that the role of PR firms and advertising agencies in greenwashing fossil fuels has come under intense scrutiny in recent months, with several communications firms accused of obstructing climate action by spreading disinformation on behalf of their clients.

“A peer-reviewed study published late last year in the journal Climatic Change was the first to comprehensively document the role that PR firms have played in helping the world’s most profitable oil and gas companies improve their environmental image and block climate action,” CNBC said.

“It shows that energy giants have relied on PR firms and ad agencies to finesse their public messaging for more than three decades.”

The broadcaster added: “The role of PR companies in climate politics has typically been overlooked, in large part because communications firms have sought to remain in keeping with the adage that ‘the best PR is invisible PR’.”

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