A recent peer-reviewed study published by PLOS ONE researchers revealed that multiple oil and gas companies have failed to take clean energy incentives after promising to do so. Now PR firms that represent the oil and gas companies are facing backlash for greenwashing their campaigns and may cease to represent them in the future.
The study examined the actions of climate and clean energy incentives from 2009-2020 of big oil and gas companies ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP. Researchers from Tohoku University and Kyoto University confirmed these major companies have for years continued to evade clean energy efforts and transition to a clean business model. Oil companies have relied on PR firms to “get away” with these false claims for nearly three decades.
What were the study’s findings?
The study found conflicting promises after investigating oil and gas companies’ pledges to reduce the effects of climate change. For instance, BP and Shell pledged to reduce their investments in fossil fuel extraction projects, but actually increased their properties in recent years.
The analysis also found that Shell, BP and Chevron actually increased fossil fuel production volume over the study period instead of investing in renewable and environmentally friendly energy.
Exxon was found to have invested only 0.23% of its total capacity expenditure in low-carbon energy production and development between 2010 to 2018 and according to the company’s energy and carbon report summary of April 2021, they do not invest in any renewables.
How oil and gas companies were able to get away with this is simple — PR firms.
Researchers reported that the use of climate related words in annual reports rose between the years 2009-2020. For example, gas giant BP’s use of the word climate change went from 22 to 326 mentions.
Despite the mention of climate change in documents, researchers found that action outside of written word was well below what was promised in documents — PR firms can be solely responsible for hiding oil and gas companies’ real climate change initiatives. By using these words an excessive amount, PR firms were able to help oil and gas companies evade completing climate goals and hide them from backlash against the public.
PR greenwashing has been an issue for years
This isn’t the first time PR firms have been found greenwashing clean energy campaigns for oil and gas companies.
In a peer-reviewed research study by Brown University published in December of 2021, the scientific journal Climate Change, focused on big PR firms Edelman, Ogilvy, Glover Park Group and Cerrell and found they continuously spread disinformation and remain unexamined by government committees when it comes to forming climate change policies.
Alongside these studies, in October 2021, Congressional hearings took place on climate disinformation against oil and gas companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP America, Shell, the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The hearing ordered companies to present documents on climate action including marketing, advertising and public relations material.
Now, PR firms are also expected to get the heat, as hearings are expected to continue with firms acting as witnesses to climate disinformation.
One particular PR firm that is facing scrutiny is Edelman PR firm, after making big climate change pledges last year, despite representing major oil companies Exxon and Shell, who have been known to dodge climate initiatives.
After news of false claims came to the surface, Edelman has decided to not drop any fossil fuel clients yet, but has decided to reform their policies to reject projects that delay progress toward climate change resolutions in the future.
Despite this, Edelman may well decide to drop fossil fuel clients and has done so at least once before. In 2015, Edelman reportedly ended its contract with giant oil company American Petroleum Institute after more than a decade of working with them under unknown circumstances that remain concealed.
In just cause, it seems PR firms and oil and gas companies will be facing heavy scrutiny and backlash from courts in the upcoming months — perhaps for the best.
A week after the greenwashing study was released, House Democrats Katie Porter and Raúl Grijalva sent letters to six PR firms asking for more details regarding their work with fossil fuel companies. Now the House oversight committee has stated they will question PR firms as part of their investigation into climate disinformation that misleads the public.
With new climate change policies continuing to form globally — such as the new UN treaty focused on combating plastic pollution and the creation of the US Clean Energy Crops to provide sustainable energy to more communities — change is necessary in all industries to combat the acceleration of climate change head on, especially the fossil fuel industry.
Scrutiny will come for PR firms, but perhaps this will promote a much needed change — especially when it comes to media companies who are remaining biased and hiding essential information which is necessary to make a difference.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — Featured Photo: Cromarty Firth Oil Rigs on June 5, 2018. Source: Joisey Showaa, Flickr.