Are social media platforms profiting from fossil fuel greenwashing?
Big technology platforms including Meta and Twitter have been accused of profiteering from greenwashing adverts from fossil fuel companies, with a new report warning that some platforms have no policies in place to address the issue.
Stop Funding Heat was formed in 2020 to combat misinformation about the climate crisis. It has this week published analysis of more than 150 academic studies, NGO reports, and journalistic investigations into big tech platforms and climate misinformation.
The report found that platforms like Meta and Twitter are failing to tackle or remove cases that could be considered greenwashing and that these platforms do not have policies in place to address the issue.
The report is accompanied by new data from Global Witness, which claims that BP more than doubled spending on environmental ads on Facebook and Instagram during the first seven months of 2022, compared to the whole of 2021, amounting to about £800,000. Ads that ran across those platforms were focused on emissions reductions, electric vehicles (EVs) and net-zero. However, the report also states that, over the same period, BP spent more than £3bn on new oil and gas projects – more than 10 times the £300m it spent on low-carbon energy globally.
It also claims that Shell failed to run any environmental ads across Facebook and Instagram in the UK with the political disclaimer required by Meta since at least November 2019, which is needed for content on climate, energy and fossil fuels.
According to Global Witness, both companies’ digital advertising appears to breach the UK Competition and Market Authority’s Green Claims Code.
The Code was first published in 2021 and was designed for businesses with consumer-facing products and services to check whether their environmental claims would be misleading as defined by British consumer law. It covers issues including inaccurate claims, overstated claims and claims that don’t enable ‘fair and meaningful’ comparisons.
Stop Funding Heat’s campaign manager and report author Sean Buchan said: “With a growing international movement to halt greenwashing and prevent the promotion of climate misinformation, these Big Tech platforms are on borrowed time.
“We are already seeing some regulators begin to crack down on greenwashing from large polluters, while a number of cities and towns are introducing bans on the advertising of climate-wrecking products. Big Tech needs to get its house in order and tackle greenwashing and climate misinformation instead of continuing to profit from it amid a climate crisis.”
The report features previous research from InfluenceMap, which found that fossil fuel companies spent $9.6m of ad revenue on Meta platforms in 2020, amassing more than 430 million impressions.
Stop Funding Heat’s report claim that, based on ad data from Meta, $10m was spent by fossil fuel firms promoting influence campaigns annually in the US alone. The report states the “actual figure could easily be double this in just the US. More research needs to be done; but ultimately, only Meta can quantify exactly how much they earn from such activities”.
The report puts forward a list of recommendations to combat the issue. It states that there should be “tobacco-style” advertising bans for fossil fuel companies, trade groups and corporate lobbying associates.
Other recommendations include creating a publicly accessible advertising library where all fossil fuel industry advertisements are stored permanently to improve transparency and subjecting the fossil fuel industry to more rigorous checking procedures.
The report comes in the same month that fossil fuel firms announced record profits.
Alongside posting record profits, energy major BP has stated that it is no longer likely to meet a previous pledge to reduce oil and gas production by 40% by 2030 against a 2020 baseline.
IBP confirmed that it will increase by an average of $1bn per year until 2030 investment into energy transition activities. These include electric vehicle charging, bioenergy, green hydrogen, blue hydrogen and renewable electricity.
However, it will also increase investment at the same scale and pace into oil and gas. It has argued that near-term demand for oil and gas is higher than previously expected and stated that additional fossil fuel earnings can “support investment” in the energy transition.
With these changes to strategy in mind, BP is rolling back its 2030 targets to cut oil and gas production. It is also targeting less steep reductions in emissions.