greenwashing

When Corporations Take Credit for Green Deeds, Their Lobbying May Tell Another Story

Read time: 6 mins
Scott Pruitt meeting with auto industry leaders

By Tom Lyon, University of Michigan and Magali (Maggie) Delmas, University of California, Los Angeles

Today most large companies like Exxon Mobil, Ford and GM issue slick reports extolling their efforts to conserve resources, use renewable energy or fund clean water supplies in developing countries. This emphasis on efforts to curb environmental harm while benefiting society is called corporate sustainability.

Once uncommon but now mainstream, this show of support for a greener and kinder business model might seem like a clear step forward. But many of these same companies are quietly using their political clout, often through industry trade associations, to block or reverse policies that would make the economy more sustainable. And because public policy raises the bar for entire industries, requiring that all businesses meet minimum standards, lobbying to block sound public policies can outweigh the positive impact from internal company initiatives.

In Louisiana's Vanishing Wetlands, a Promise of Ecotourism That Locals Say Reeks of Greenwashing

Read time: 8 mins
Metal pelican on a dock in Manchac, Louisiana

Manchac, Louisiana, is located on a narrow strip of land between two brackish lakes, surrounded by cypress trees and abundant wildlife. About 43 miles northwest of New Orleans, Manchac’s picturesque wetlands — like the rest of Louisiana’s coast — are endangered, with their latest threat, according to some, coming from a resort-style development marketed as “ecotourism” and local economic savior.

What could be wrong with building a hotel and housing development for 2,000 people in environmentally sensitive wetlands, which by their very nature, are located in a flood zone?

How Shell Greenwashed its Image as Internal Documents Warned of Fossil Fuels' Contribution to Climate Change

Read time: 9 mins
Shell clean air advert

Shell knew about the relationship between burning fossil fuels and climate change as early as the 1980s. So what did the company decide to do about it? Stop burning fossil fuels?

No. It changed its advertising strategy.

A tranche of documents uncovered last week by Jelmer Mommers of De Correspondent published on Climate Files, a project of the Climate Investigations Center, revealed that Shell knew about the danger its products posed to the climate decades ago. The company has continued to double-down on fossil fuel investment since the turn of the century despite this knowledge.

But in the wake of a bribery scandal in Nigeria that resulted in two dozen employees being fired, the company was concerned enough about its dirty image to work out a new PR strategy.

Are the COP21 Corporate Sponsors as Green as They Say They Are?

Read time: 3 mins

Some corporate sponsors of the COP21 Paris climate talks are failing to properly report their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions a new report reveals.

The Paris climate conference is sponsored by over 60 companies including big polluters EDF, Engie and BNP Paribas. And while countries continue to negotiate a deal on tackling climate change, what have these corporate sponsors brought to the table?

A new study published this week by French social research group BASIC and the Multinationals Observatory shows that very few of the COP21 sponsors are declaring their GHG emissions in a transparent way.

Interesting Events You Won’t Want to Miss At The Paris COP21 Climate Conference

Read time: 5 mins

The time has finally arrived. We're on the Eurostar heading to Paris for the COP21 climate conference kick-off.

On Monday, the world is meeting in Paris to (hopefully) agree a deal that will curb our carbon emissions and avert catastrophic climate change.

The stakes are high. Over the course of just two weeks, we’ll see leaders doing backroom negotiations, and countries from every corner of our planet will be working hard to have their voice heard. Meanwhile, others – be it green NGOs or climate deniers – will be doing their best to influence the decisions.

This is why DeSmog UK has put together a quick guide highlighting some on-the-ground events we're hoping to cover. You won’t want to miss it.

New "Frackademia" Report Co-Written by "Converted Climate Skeptic" Richard Muller

Read time: 3 mins

The conservative UK-based Centre for Policy Studies recently published a study on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas. The skinny: it's yet another case study of “frackademia,” and the co-authors have a financial stake in the upstart Chinese fracking industry.

Titled “Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking“ and co-authored by Richard Muller and his daughter Elizabeth “Liz” Muller, it concludes that fracking's climate change impacts are benign, dismissing many scientific studies coming to contrary conclusions.

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Richard Muller — a self-proclaimed “converted skeptic” on climate change — said he and Liz had originally thought of putting together this study “about two years ago.”

“We quickly realized that natural gas could be a very big player,” he said. “The reasons had to do with China and the goal of the paper is to get the environmentalists to recognize that they need to support responsible fracking.

The ongoing debate over fracking in the UK served as the impetus behind the Centre for Policy Studies — a non-profit co-founded by former right-wing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1974 — hosting this report on its website, according to Richard Muller.

“They asked for it because some environmentalists are currently opposing fracking in the UK, and they wanted us to share our perspective that fracking is not only essential for human health but its support can be justified for humanitarian purposes,” he said. 

This isn't the first time Liz Muller has unapologetically sung the praises of fracking and promoted bringing the practice to China. In April, she penned an op-ed in The New York Times titled, “China Must Exploit Its Shale Gas.” 

Greenwashing Concerns Mount as Evidence of Fracking's Climate Impact Grows

Read time: 8 mins

Several years ago, Utah public health officials realized they had a big problem on their hands – one with national implications as other states were racing to increase oil and gas drilling. Smog levels in the state’s rural Uintah basin were rivaling those found in Los Angeles or Houston on their worst days.

The culprit, an EPA report concluded earlier this year: oil and gas operations. The industry was responsible for roughly 99 percent of the volatile organic compounds found in the basin, which mixed under sunlight with nitrogen oxides – at least 57% of which also came from oil and gas development – to form the choking smog, so thick that the nearby Salt Lake City airport was forced to divert flights when the smog was at its worst.

But the haze over the Uintah isn’t the most dangerous air pollutant coming from the oil and gas fields in the valley.

A string of studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that the core ingredient in natural gas, methane, is leaking at rates far higher than previously suspected.  This methane has climate change impacts that, on a pound-for-pound basis, will be far more powerful over the next two decades than the carbon dioxide emissions that have been the focus of most climate change discussions.

The smog problem is especially pronounced in Utah. But a growing body of research nationwide suggests that methane is leaking from the natural gas industry at levels far higher than previously known.

In Washington D.C., pressure is mounting to ignore these methane leaks. The oil and gas industry says there is no time to waste. We must proceed immediately with the “all-of-the-above” national energy strategy they say, code for “drill baby drill”. This pressure is coming not only from the natural gas industry itself, but also from a surprising ally: the Environmental Defense Fund, which has supported natural gas development as a “bridge” from coal to renewables.

This position has drawn renewed accusations that the EDF is “greenwashing” for the natural gas industry.

Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 3: Wherein money trumps fact every time

Read time: 6 mins

This is last installment of a three-part series on greenwashing and the tar sands. Be sure to read Part 1, A Short History of Greenwashing the Tar Sands, and Part 2, Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

Recently, Canadian Oil Sands Chief Executive Officer Marcel Coutu explained to Bloomberg why he and other big shot oil executives have been lobbying U.S. politicians so hard for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ferry more than 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude to the Gulf Coast. Coutu had participated in a Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) lobbying junket in February, and another trip is being planned for this month.

The first reason is money. The Keystone XL pipeline is a vital component of the tar sands industry’s plans. Without it, it will be hard for Big Oil to double production of tar sands crude by 2020. With no way to transport the extra crude to markets in the U.S. and beyond, there would be no point in spending all that money to turn bitumen into a crude form of oil. This, Coutu said, has had a chilling effect on investment and share prices.

Canadian Oil Sands shares have risen just two per cent this year, while Cenovus’ have fallen seven percent and Imperial Oil’s are down 6.2 percent. Keystone XL, says Todd Kepler, a Calgary-based oil and gas analyst at Cormark Securities, would increase share prices for oil producers by as much as 20 per cent.

That's a big deal worth millions of dollars.

Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 2: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Read time: 8 mins

Last week, I wrote a short history of the greenwashing campaign being waged by tar sands promoters, including (and especially) the Canadian and Alberta governments. It’s clear that as the battle over the future of tar sands development has intensified, so has the greenwashing necessary to promote it in the age of climate change and increasing environmental literacy. The more people know about the dangerous costs and risks associated with tar sands development, the more time, effort and money its promoters must invest in the alchemy of disingenuous propaganda.

The frustrating part for Canadians concerned with this egregious abuse and misuse of language is that there doesn’t appear to be any recourse. Tar sands supporters seem to disseminate their little black lies with impunity, and there is no way, in a democracy where free speech is sacrosanct, to stop the flood of tar sands bullshit sullying the airwaves.

A Short History of Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 1

Read time: 6 mins

This is Part One of a three-part series on the political greenwashing of the tar sands in Canada.

When I hatched the idea to write a book about the use of spin and propaganda in the battle over the tar sands, a close friend of mine suggested I avoid the term “tar sands.” His logic was simple: using this term, which has become a pejorative, would turn some people off, people who might benefit, he said, from reading my book.

His recommendation was meant to be helpful, but it speaks to the power of manipulating language to make people believe something appears to be something that it is not. “Greenwashing” refers to the strategy of intentionally exaggerating a product’s environmental credentials in order to sell it, and nowhere has greenwashing been more generously used than in the promotion of the tar sands and the new and bigger pipelines that proponents hope will carry it around the world.

Greenwashing is fairly recent phenomenon—it was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1999—but it has become commonplace as public concern has grown over the spate of environmental problems we now face, and as consumers demand “greener” products as a means of solving them. The most recent analysis by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing found that although the number of green products is growing, the marketing of more than 95 per cent of them still commits one the seven sins of greenwashing.

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