New BP ad campaign accused of greenwashingNew ads promoting BP as climate-friendly are being challenged by an environmental law group. Photo credit: BP via Twitter

By Dana Drugmand

An environmental law organization has launched a first-of-its-kind complaint against British Petroleum over the company’s latest advertising, claiming it is misleading to consumers. 

ClientEarth submitted its complaint Wednesday to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which governs responsible business conduct for multinational enterprises. This is the first known complaint made under OECD guidelines concerning misleading or deceptive advertising by a fossil fuel company. 

ClientEarth, a United Kingdom-based group, calls BP’s ‘Keep Advancing’ and ‘Possibilities Everywhere’ campaigns classic greenwashing. They are BP’s largest advertising campaigns in a decade, feature renewable energy and give the impression that BP is committed to climate solutions. ClientEarth said BP is trying to change its reputation without changing its core fossil fuel business, which continues to fuel climate change. 

“BP is spending millions on an advertising campaign to give the impression that it’s racing to renewables, that its gas is cleaner, and that it is part of the climate solution,” said ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac. “This is a smokescreen. While BP’s advertising focuses on clean energy, in reality, more than 96% of the company’s annual capital expenditure is on oil and gas. According to its own figures, BP is spending less than four pounds in every hundred on low-carbon investments each year. The rest is fuelling the climate crisis.”  

According to OECD guidelines, multinational enterprises should “not make representations or omissions, nor engage in any other practices, that are deceptive, misleading, fraudulent or unfair.” ClientEarth argues that BP is omitting and potentially misrepresenting how much it spends on oil and gas compared to renewable energy. ClientEarth is also challenging BP’s statements around the role of gas and the expectation that global energy demand will increase in the coming decades. 

The complaint will be reviewed by the OECD’s point of contact in the UK and will be sent to BP. The process of resolving the complaint could take a year or more. 

“We have not seen this complaint, but we strongly reject the suggestion that our advertising is misleading. BP has clearly said that the world is on an unsustainable path and must do more to reduce emissions. We support a rapid transition of the world’s energy system,” a BP spokesman said in an emailed statement. 

“BP is of course well-known as a major oil and gas producer. We are also committed to advancing a low carbon future. So one of the purposes of this advertising campaign is to let people know about some of the possibilities we see to do that, for example in wind, solar and electric vehicle charging, as well as in natural gas and advanced fuels.” 

BP is not the only oil and gas company to be accused of greenwashing and misleading consumers. ExxonMobil is facing a new lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey alleging Exxon violated the state’s consumer protection statute with misleading marketing of its products and other greenwashing actions. Healey’s lawsuit claims that Exxon “targets consumers with deceptive messaging about Exxon as a good environmental steward and of its products as ‘green’ while the company is massively ramping up fossil fuel production and spending only about one-half of 1% of revenues on developing clean energy.” 

With other oil majors like Exxon and Shell also running high-profile marketing campaigns to portray themselves as “green,” ClientEarth is calling on the UK’s next government to take action banning all fossil fuel advertising unless it includes a warning about the impact of fossil fuels on the climate crisis. ClientEarth says fossil fuel companies are following the PR playbook of the tobacco companies. 

“In the past, tobacco companies were able to mislead the public about the safety of their products,” Marjanac said. “We see real parallels with fossil fuel companies and the tobacco industry, which knew about the risks their products posed but used misleading marketing campaigns to sell them regardless.”  

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