How greenwashing ads can be terrible for the environment

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The energy sector is the main contributor to the increase in CO2 based on global energy consumption data. Since 1965, data shows that 20 fossil fuel companies are responsible for 35% of all energy-related CO2 and methane emissions worldwide.

This trend has continued in recent years. Since 2000, global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry have increased significantly, reaching a record 36.7 billion metric tons in 2019.

Chevron is the main emitter of oil and gas, followed by Exxon, BP and Shell. Since 1965, the products of these four companies have accounted for more than 10% of global carbon emissions.

Attempts to limit global warming to 1.5°C require a transition to net zero emissions energy systems by 2050. However, evidence suggests that some of the world’s biggest polluters are talking about net zero but not downplaying not their own carbon emissions.

Numerous studies document how oil majors have spread misinformation and hindered progress on climate action. ExxonMobil has been denying climate change and spreading misinformation to mislead the public for over 20 years.

Greenwashing social media ads

Now a new investigation by Thomas Lewton, a freelance science journalist, to The Guardian and Eco.bot, a network-based performance service, revealed in August 2022 that this year BP had spent more than $944,956 (£800,000) on social media ads in the UK to promote investments business in green energy.

Just before the company announced its strong $8.28bn (£7bn) 14-year profit for the second quarter of 2022, it paid around $673,281 (£570,000) to Facebook and Instagram for adverts that have reached tens of millions of people in the UK.

The adverts began two days after the opposition Labor Party proposed a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas in January 2022, highlighting BP’s contributions to UK energy security.

Eco.Bot’s investigation found that BP’s spending on these ads had increased in the weeks before then-Chancellor of the Exchequer and future UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a “tax on energy benefits” on May 26, 2022.

“If BP’s investments in renewable energy [are considered], they represent part of a portfolio still dominated by fossil fuels,” said Gregory Trencher, a researcher in energy policy and sustainable transitions at Kyoto University. Offshore Technology. “Furthermore, although it is committed to reducing its fossil fuel production by 40% by 2030, BP plans to increase its sales of fossil fuels produced by third parties.”

Shift responsibility from business to consumer

Several companies have attempted to shift responsibility for climate change from themselves to consumers. An example is BP’s promotion of reducing individual carbon footprints, according to some research.

In the 1980s, BP first promoted and helped popularize the term “carbon footprint”. In 2004, the company unveiled its “Carbon Footprint Calculator”, which allowed users to assess how daily activities, such as going to work, buying food and traveling, significantly contributed to climate change. A decade and a half later, the term “carbon footprint” was widespread.

Major American and European companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying to delay or weaken climate policy. A recent survey revealed that oil companies use social media advertising to influence public opinion.

Fossil fuel companies are among the biggest spenders on Google ads that look like search engine results, which campaign groups call “rampant greenwashing.” In a 2020 survey, more than half of customers said they couldn’t identify the difference between a paid listing and a standard Google result.

In 2021, BP hired a public relations firm to promote the narrative that climate change is the fault of the people, not an oil giant.

“This industry has a proven track record of strategic communication to confuse the minds of the public and undermine action,” said Geoffrey Supran, a historian of science at Harvard University. Mashable in 2021.

“You have to be careful”

“Society, investors and politicians expect this [green investments]and the younger generation that primarily uses social media is becoming [increasingly] sensitive to the carbon intensity of many industries, not just oil,” says Gregory.

“We have to be careful,” Nikita Shiel-Rolle, a climate justice activist in the Bahamas, told Offshore Technology.

Many advertisements now use a variety of clever tactics to attract the user. In addition to mimicking search engine results, they may fill your screen with green or use vague terms like “all-natural” to persuade you that the products they advertise are good for the environment.

“Additionally, there have been growing claims from Europe and the United States that the oil majors are greenwashing, and they are increasingly seen as major contributors to climate change. “says Gregory. “In such a context, it is more important than ever that the oil majors convey an image of transition to clean energy.”

According to a 2009 survey, 80% of marketers planned to increase their spending on green marketing to target more environmentally friendly consumers.

European oil majors have repeatedly acknowledged climate science, participated in industry climate action initiatives, implemented internal carbon pricing, spent and promised more clean energy and set zero transition targets net and decarbonization of energy products.

However, an analysis by the NGO Oil Change International has revealed that BP’s plans are far from sufficient [9] limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as set out in the Paris Agreement.

Improve the image of the company

“Corporate interests have used advertising for many years to enhance their reputations,” said Laura Edelson, an online political communications researcher at New York University. The Guardian. “When it comes to corporate taxes, reputation matters to politicians.”

BP’s ads promote its “net zero transition” plan by phasing out oil and gas production and investing more in “low carbon” and renewable energy sources.

“Targeting the younger generation, who are more sensitive to climate change, is the goal of the social media marketing strategy,” says Gregory.

“As consumers, we need to be clear about what we consume and develop that critical eye [to understand what’s wrong]says Nikita. [That] requires exposure and [more] money in this type of educational development.

Meta’s ad library, which served as the basis for the Guardian/Eco.bot investigates, disclosed data on ad spend and the reach of social issues and political advertising, and only for ads that remained viewable in its records.

Meta had removed Shell ads for violating its transparency policy. For example, the investigation found that dozens of other similar ads that ran without any sort of warning about who paid for the ads, for over a month, seemed completely unnoticed by Meta’s moderation process.

It is unrealistic to expect companies to eliminate their environmental footprint overnight. To achieve a more sustainable economy, it can be beneficial to celebrate even minor achievements. However, these accomplishments must be honestly communicated.

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