Greenpeace has been documenting Shell’s greenwash for years, including false claims about capturing CO2 emissions and misinforming consumers about tar sands. But since BP’s oil disaster, Shell has embarked on a huge, new ad campaign bigger than its previous misleading efforts.
Shell’s “Let’s Go” campaign played out over the summer as BP’s oil was gushing and all other oil companies were trying to keep a low profile. In contrast to BP’s “Making This Right” ads, Shell was making a name for itself as a company that was thinking about the future and working tirelessly to be responsible, reduce emissions and improve efficiency.
Despite the green and secure picture Shell was painting, the company meanwhile was fighting long and hard to open up new, riskier territory to oil drilling. Shell’s the largest leaseholder in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the coast of Alaska and has spent billions working to open up these areas to offshore drilling.
Last week, Shell amplified its campaign efforts, launching a new, aggressive phase about drilling in the Arctic.
The New York Times called this what it is, “a public lobby campaign” aimed at pressuring the Interior Department to grant final approval for its Arctic drilling projects. According to the Times, the company is placing ads for the rest of the month in “national newspapers, liberal and conservative political magazines and media focused on Congress”.
In the ads, Shell claims to have emergency oil-spill response plans better than BP’s, including a “sub-sea containment system” and a response vessel on standby to drill a relief well. Just suppose this system did work in the spring or summer, what happens when the weather turns and the water freezes? In the remote waters of Alaska's coast, harsh weather and icy waters are the norm, the risk of blowouts is higher and response capacity smaller than in the Gulf of Mexico, and oil spill “clean up” is impossible.
Regulators should be skeptical of any response plans Shell submits. During Congressional oil spill hearings last summer, Rep. Ed Markey exposed that Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips had emergency oil-spill response plans written by the same company and nearly identical to BP’s. The plans included information on protecting walruses in the Gulf of Mexico (even though they live in the Arctic) and the name and phone number of a scientist who died years earlier as a go-to expert in the event of a spill.
The public shouldn’t be fooled by Shell’s new ad campaign and neither should the Interior Department. Shell’s legacy of misstatements provides reason to be skeptical.
This week, Planet Green's Focus Earth program airs an episode on greenwash. In the episode Bob Woodruff interviews environmental and corporate watchdog expert Kenny Bruno, author of Greenwash and Corporate Environmentalism, and myself from Greenpeace, to answer the question: are corporate green efforts for show only, or can they actually make amends for decades of un-sustainable, even downright harmful, business choices? Woodfuff also gets up close with leaders from Royal Dutch Shell, Ford Motor Company and Duke Energy to examine their environmental statements and actions.
Yesterday, Climate Progress called out the New York Times for running a front page ExxonMobil advertisement.
As Climate Progress points out:
"Needless to say — or, rather, in this case, needful to say — while today’s car has lower emissions of urban air pollutants thanks to government regulation, today’s car has, if anything, higher emissions of greenhouse gases, which threaten the health and well-being of the next 50 generations. And needful to say, ExxonMobil has done more than just about any other company to undermine efforts to achieve the greenhouse gas regulations that could lower those emissions."
"ExxonSecrets details the millions of dollars that the company has shoveled to fund the disinformation campaigns of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, all of which continue to advance unfactual anti-scientific attacks as I have detailed recently (see posts on Heritage and CEI and AEI). Chris Mooney wrote an excellent piece on ExxonMobil’s two-decade anti-scientific campaign. A 2007 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report looked at ExxonMobil’s tobacco industry-like tactics in pushing global warming denial (see “Today We Have a Planet That’s Smoking!”). So it is especially egregious that the New York Times would take money to publish this disinformation on their front page."
This new post in GreenCarReports.com nicely summarizes the issue we've taken with GM's "Gas-Friendly to Gas-Free" campaign. It's nice to see that others aren't fooled by the greenwash either:
The trouble with the "more 30-MPG-highway cars than anyone else" claim, though, is that many of those cars are simply different nameplates on the same basic vehicle.
With Obama's auto-industry oversight board insisting that superfluous brands--like Saturn and Pontiac--be axed, those badge-engineered models will all go away. In fact, of the 20 vehicles GM touts with highway mileage of 30 mpg or higher, more than half (12 of them) are doomed.
But we think it's kind of a dumb marketing claim anyway. It doesn't matter how many models you have over 30 mpg; it's how many you actually, you know, sell. With reports of Pontiac G3 and G5 models piling up on dealer lots, plus plummeting Saturn sales, we fear GM isn't doing so well there.
The website of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers features friendly green stripes, and a green logo with tracks heading toward a green horizon representing, in the words of their mission statement: “[dedication to] providing safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient automobiles that produce less CO2.” Their website also features windmills, polar bears, and a plethora of other greenwash imagery, almost to the point of self-satire.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is, of course, made up of “green” car companies such as GM, Ford, Toyota, and Volkswagen. In other words, the Alliance is a lobby group funded by these companies.
Together, these otherwise fiercely competitive corporations are working for a common goal—a cessation of California and other states’ attempts to reduce vehicular greenhouse gas emissions. The car companies claim that they are doing enough as it is, and state-based regulations of their tailpipe emissions would ruin them, financially.
However, the Auto Alliance’s protest seems very familiar. Back in the 1970s, GM warned the EPA, “[I]f GM is forced to introduce catalytic converter systems across-the board on 1975 models, the prospect of an unreasonable risk of business catastrophe and massive difficulties with these vehicles in the hands of the public must be faced.” Catalytic converters were shortly after introduced and found to work fine, and customers continued to consume Detroit’s cars.
Similarly, the Auto Alliance’s spiritual predecessor, the Automobile Manufacturer’s Association, discussed the proposed Clean Air Act in 1970, a government effort to regulate national pollution standards, with a certain degree of panic or deception. They claimed: “It presently appears that it will simply not be possible for vehicle manufacturers to achieve the control levels specified in the bill with any fossil fuel-burning engine-including steam, gas turbines, etc., as well as internal combustion engines.” The Clean Air Act, of course, passed and has been amended several times since then—it began the gradual improvement of America’s air quality.
Again, do these protestations sound familiar?
Yet, despite the automakers’ continuing opposition to California’s determined fight against global warming and greenhouse gases, despite their history of false claims and un-environmental practices, and despite the “impossible” technical hurdles they face, they still find the money to lobby congress and run ads like, well, this:
Fred Pearce in The Guardian recently pointed out that Shell has sold out on its renewable promises, claiming they are 'not economic'.
At a time when new bosses at Exxon in the US are making overtures to Barack Obama's idea of a new green deal to fight climate change, Shell is going back to the bad old days.
In recent years, Shell has invested more than $1bn in the most commercial of the new renewable industries, wind power. It claims to have more than 500MW of wind power capacity altogether — the equivalent of half a regular power station.
It was chicken feed for them. But many hoped for more. Then last year, Shell pulled out of what would be the world's largest offshore wind farm in the Thames estuary. The London Array would have tripled its wind capacity.
The company claimed at the time that it was going to concentrate its renewables business in the US. Now that promise has quietly disappeared. Last week, its head of gas and power, Linda Cook, told reporters: "We do not expect material amounts of investment [in wind and solar] going forward." Biofuels will still get cash. Everything else is back into cold storage.
An article today in the Washington Post reveals that GM spent millions lobbying Congress last quarter while asking for $13 billion in bailout loans.
General Motors and Chrysler continue to spend millions of dollars on lobbying the same government that is loaning them billions of dollars, as they appeal for more money and seek to influence federal rule-making.
In the last three months of 2008, just as slumping auto sales pushed the two Detroit carmakers closer to bankruptcy, GM spent about $3.9 million on lobbying, according to a review of its most recent disclosure forms.
The companies said they lobbied for industry bailout bills in the House and Senate, as well as a sweeping list of legislative and regulatory issues, including vehicle emissions standards, air bag systems, hydrogen fuel safety and climate change.
Read the full article in the Washington Post.
This week GM and other automakers were on the hill lobbying Congress to give them $25B in loan guarantees to help build fuel-efficient cars . Lately, U.S. automakers have really needed these guarantees. Their undesirable and inefficient products have lead to poor sales and poor credit ratings, and banks now only agree to give them loans at high rates, or not at all. These guarantees would help automakers get loans at better rates, since the government would be backing them and promising to pay the lender if the automakers are unable.
These guarantees come at an expense, though. Congress has estimated that this program will cost $7.5B – that money coming, of course, out of taxpayer pockets .
Does GM deserve this taxpayer money? Given the poor decisions GM management has made over the past several years and the many ways the company is misleading the public, it’s easy to argue that it doesn’t.
GM has spent the better part of the last two decades pouring billions into ads for behemoth gas-guzzlers. Increasing global concern over climate change and a tightening global oil supply hasn’t deterred the company from encouraging consumers to buy huge SUVs. As recently as this past Super Bowl, GM spent over $5M for a 60-second ad showing off the company’s large GMC Yukon Hybrid . The ad provided GM a chance to promote its profitable gas-guzzler, while also earning green cred because of the vehicle’s hybrid system (though the vehicle only gets 20mpg). Maybe if GM had spent a little more money actually making efficient vehicles, and less money on SUV and greenwash ads, taxpayers wouldn’t need to bail the company out.
Last year alone, GM spent over $3 billion dollars on marketing. A good chunk of that went to Chevy and its “gas-friendly to gas-free” campaign ($726M), while another large chunk was spent on GMC truck ads ($263M), and another on Hummer ads ($84M).
It would be really great if GM did some day actually build the Volt and other “gas-friendly” vehicles it so aggressively advertises. But, until then, maybe GM should stop spending millions bragging about efficient cars, and instead spend that money building them.
 E&E Publishing, September 8, 2008. (subscription required)
 E&E Publishing, September 18, 2008 (subscription required)
 The Detroit News. January 31, 2008. “Big 3 tread lightly on Super ad field; Automakers cut back on big-ticket roles.” Eric Morath
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Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.