The great greenwashing scam: PR firms face reckoning after spinning for big oil
Although this isn’t the first time that oil companies have been accused of overstating their climate bona fides, it has never been set out quite so comprehensively, according to environmental sociologist Dr Robert Brulle at Brown University. “This is the first robust, empirical, peer-reviewed analysis of the activities – of the speech, business plans, and the actual investment patterns – of the major oil companies regarding their support or opposition to the transition to a sustainable society,” he says.
Brulle says PR firms and advertising agencies that have created campaigns around the oil firms’ net-zero claims are now on notice. “There’s no plausible deniability that they are unaware of the activities of these companies after this paper has been published,” he says. “This paper clearly shows that these companies aren’t walking the talk.”
That forces the hand of PR firms such as Edelman – which made headlines late last year for making big climate pledges while also working for oil majors like Exxon and Shell – and trade groups such as the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which have a reputation for blocking climate policy.
P.S. - Edelman did not reply to a request for comment by press time. Neither did the PR firm WPP, which has done extensive work for BP and Chevron. The New York Times’ T Brand Studio, which has created campaigns for both Exxon and Shell amplifying their net-zero claims, also declined to comment on how this study might play into that work. The Washington Post also declined to respond to questions about whether its WP Creative Group would continue to create campaigns for Chevron, Shell or the American Petroleum Institute, in light of such extensive documentation that previous campaigns were misleading.