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Oil Companies are Greenwashing

If you've been thinking that the oil and gas industry is doing its part to become more sustainable, a recently published study will make you think again. The study, published February 16, investigated 12 years of both quantitative and qualitative data from Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, and Chevron's words about sustainability compared to their actions. Overall, they found that over the course of the past decade, most of the big four have increased the usage of "green" terminology in their business reports; for example, these companies have taken to terms like "climate change" and "low carbon energy", and some have made pledges to invest in clean energy or reduce certain forms of emissions. Unfortunately, when it comes to these companies' underlying business models, there hasn't been meaningful change. Investing 1% of annual profits in clean energy while keeping the rest of profits for oil and gas expansion isn't exactly a path toward a green, zero-carbon future, and that means we should be concerned.

When fossil fuel companies make public commitments that indicate they care about climate change, but don't actually change the carbon-emitted core of their business, they deceive consumers looking to make sustainable choices. This is an example of greenwashing–the business practice of spending more time convincing consumers of sustainability than doing the work to become sustainable–and you can learn more about it by listening to this podcast. The fact of the matter is that the longer companies blow hot air (literally and figuratively) when it comes to tackling the climate crisis, the harder it will be for societies to adjust and avert the worst of possible damageReports show that across the board, companies are not coming through on their "net zero" climate pledges, and they deserve to be held accountable for making good on their promises.

Researchers have already uncovered the extreme lengths to which fossil fuel companies have gone to try to disprove the science of climate change. It should come as no surprise that these companies are continuing to make deceptive attempts to avoid the drastic and necessary change already on its way: the long-term divestment from fossil fuels. The Earth’s climate demands that our clean energy transition starts now, and business plays a vital role in facilitating that transition. That means we need more transparency and concrete action from the businesses emitting the most harmful carbon dioxide into our atmosphere .

For a primer on how to identify greenwashing, visit


1.The Clean energy claims of BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell: A mismatch between discourse, actions and investments, PLoS One

2. Accusations of 'greenwashing' by big oil companies are well-founded, a new study finds, NPR

3. "What is Greenwashing?" Earth.org

4. "Merchants of doubt : how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming",

5. "Major Companies Largely Fail Net Zero Climate Pledge Test", New Climate Institute,

6. "Greenwashing: A Primer and Environmental Glossary", SandyAlexander

7. Weekly Economics Podcast: Greenwashing, New Economics Foundation

8. "The Role of Business in Climate Change", World Business Council for Sustainable Development


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