Big Tech facilitating fossil fuel greenwashing

New report calls for platforms to take responsibility, proposing tobacco-style ad bans, an ad library for transparency, and stricter checks on fossil fuel ads to combat climate deception.

A new report from Stop Funding Heat reveals how Big Tech platforms are failing to tackle and are profiting from fossil fuel greenwashing. Released alongside the report, new data from Global Witness shows that BP and Shell’s digital advertising appears to breach the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority’s Green Claims Code, with BP more than doubling its spending on greenwashing ads on Facebook and Instagram in 2022.

Stop Funding Heat’s report details how the fossil fuel industry has continued to spread false information about its role in solving the climate crisis and hindering the implementation of meaningful policy. A growing form of climate disinformation – known as greenwashing – has become the latest weapon in their arsenal, portraying the industry as environmentally responsible when in reality, they are blocking progress towards a more sustainable future.

The report reveals how Big tech platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, and Google, are enabling this deception by taking money from the fossil fuel industry to promote their content, while also failing to enforce policies against mis- and disinformation. With the world at a critical juncture in the fight against climate change, the report calls for online platforms to take responsibility and stop profiting from the spread of disinformation.

Accompanying the report, new data from Global Witness reveals that BP and Shell, two major fossil fuel companies, have increased their spending on greenwashing ads on social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram. BP more than doubled its spending on environmental ads to about £800K in the first seven months of 2022, despite spending over ten times that amount on new oil and gas projects.

Similarly, Shell spent nearly five times more on oil and gas than on renewable energy solutions during this period. Both companies continue to promote green initiatives on Twitter, despite these activities making up only a small fraction of their business. Shell has failed to include the required political disclaimer in its UK Facebook and Instagram ads about the environment (which Meta frequently failed to detect), and Global Witness’ analysis suggests that both BP and Shell’s digital advertising may breach the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority’s Green Claims Code, which was introduced just a year ago.

Although greenwashing is widespread and addressing climate change is urgent, Big Tech platforms currently lack policies to tackle greenwashing, and some even fail to acknowledge climate misinformation as a problem. To address this, Stop Funding Heat presents a series of proposals in the report, such as:

  • Introducing “tobacco-style” advertising bans for the fossil fuel industry, its trade groups and corporate lobbying associates;
  • Creating a publicly accessible advertising library where all fossil fuel industry advertisements are stored permanent to improve transparency;
  • Subjecting fossil fuel adverts to more rigorous checking procedure.

The report from Stop Funding Heat, titled ‘Cashing in on Climate Delay: Big Tech’s Role in Greenwashing the Fossil Fuel Industry‘, is a wake-up call to the dangers of frequent and pervasive greenwashing by polluting companies and warns that governments, regulators, and the public are underestimating the risks, while Big Tech companies continue to reap the profits.