Accusations of Big Oil 'Greenwashing' Are Well-Founded

Actions haven't lived up to clean energy rhetoric, researchers say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 17, 2022 9:10 AM CST
Accusations of Big Oil 'Greenwashing' Are Well-Founded
An oil refinery is seen at sunset in Rodeo, Calif.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)

(Newser) – If actions speak louder than words, oil companies have been very quiet about transitioning to clean energy, according to a new study. Researchers in Japan looked at four major oil companies—BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell—and found that while there had been a rise in promises of action and the use of terms like "climate change" and "low-carbon" between 2009 and 2020, the companies largely failed to take concrete actions, NPR reports. "Until actions and investment behavior are brought into alignment with discourse, accusations of greenwashing appear well-founded," the researchers wrote.

In the study, published in the journal PLOS One, researchers said financial analysis revealed "continuing business model dependence on fossil fuels along with insignificant and opaque spending on clean energy." They noted that while the companies had pledged to start moving away from fossil fuels, they increased oil and gas production, along with exploration, over the time period. The researchers said that while American firms Chevron and ExxonMobil were "laggards" in comparison to European firms BP and Shell, none of the companies came anywhere close to fulfilling their pledges.

"Recent pledges look very nice and they’re getting a lot of people excited, but we have to put these in the context of company history of actions," says researcher Gregory Trencher, per the Guardian. "It’s like a very naughty schoolboy telling the teacher 'I promise to do all my homework next week,' but the student has never worked hard." He says that until there is "very concrete progress, we have every reason to be very skeptical about claims to be moving in a green direction." All four companies issued statements disputing the findings, with BP arguing that researchers failed to take its 2021 "transformation" into account. (Read more oil companies stories.)

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