Greenwashing on Google

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) reveals, for the first time, how Google enables Big Oil’s greenwashing. In this new report, CCDH finds that nearly half of the $23.7 million spent on Google search ads by fossil fuel oil and gas companies in the last two years have targeted terms on environmental sustainability. For example, buying search terms such as ‘eco-friendly’ to put forward messaging to try and appear more green and environmentally sustainable than their business actually was. The five companies studied in this report include: ExxonMobil, British Petroleum (BP), Chevron, Shell, and Aramco.

The report argues that Big Oil’s deception is by design. It is a proven business plan for the world’s largest fossil fuel polluters to make public announcements and promises about sustainability, meanwhile, they continue to secure the largest profits in decades.

In September 2022, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform published hundreds of pages of internal emails from oil and gas companies, revealing how executives candidly acknowledged that the industry did not intend to comply with ‘net zero’ emissions. The Committee found that Big Oil, in their own words admitted through internal documents, is “gaslighting” the public.

The report notes that Google’s lack of transparency and irresponsibility is a wider problem because their model allows search terms to be awarded to the highest bidder, despite the consequences. Furthermore, CCDH argues that Google fails to deliver on their own specific promises. For example, contrary to its promise to no longer run ads containing climate denial, CCDH reveals that Google continues to accept hundreds of thousands for outright climate denial. Ads that claim “fossil fuels make the planet safer”, CCDH claims, have no right to appear on a search engine that claims to care about the climate crisis.

The report issues the following three recommendations:

  • Google must keep its promise not to profit from climate denial content
  • Google must stop profiting from Big Oil ads that distort climate change search results
  • Google must create a public and transparent ad library