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Study: Oil majors misleading the public with greenwashing

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According to a a study published by the open-access science journal PLOS, many oil majors are now using advertising on social media to influence public opinion and promote an image of green fossil fuels. The report said that oil majors are strategically spreading misinformation and aggressively obstructed progress toward climate action, and authenticity claims need to be examined “critically and exhaustively”.

The report called out the likes of ExxonMobil stating that the company has “strategically denied climate change and propagated disinformation” to mislead the public for over 20 years.

Moreover, it added that multiple majors have tried to shift the responsibility for climate change onto consumers and named BP’s promotion of reducing individual carbon footprints as an example.

The paper added that many of these majors are simply mitigating future carbon risks by diversifying energy products rather than pursuing company-wide decarbonisation. Given this track record, the paper also said “decarbonisation claims by oil majors have been critiqued as ‘greenwashing’”.

Greenwashing has also been a topic gaining traction in the marketing world. In fact, earlier this year the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) issued a first-of-its-kind guidance on how brands can make sure environmental claims featured in their marketing communications.

Six key principles were highlighted to be what marketers needed to follow to make sure they are seen as trustworthy and to avoid their brands being accused of greenwashing:

Principle 1: Claims must not be likely to mislead, and the basis for them must be clear.

Principle 2: Marketers must hold robust evidence for all claims likely to be regarded as objective and capable of substantiation.

Principle 3: Marketing communications must not omit material information. Where time or space is limited, marketers must use alternative means to make qualifying information readily accessible to the audience and indicate where it can be accessed.

Principle 4: Marketers must base general environmental claims on the full lifecycle of their product or business, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the lifecycle.

Principle 5: Products compared in marketing communications must meet the same needs or be intended for the same purpose. The basis for comparisons must be clear and allow the audience to make an informed decision about the products compared.

Principle 6: Marketers must include all information relating to the environmental impact of advertised products that is required by law, regulators or Codes to which they are signatories.

According to WFA the goal was to help marketers with a clear set of rules to follow when they decide to communicate the actions that their company is taking to drive more sustainable outcomes.

Meanwhile, in a recent survey by Milieu Insight conducted across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand among 1,000 beauty product shoppers found that 67% of respondents will research more about the claims on their beauty products packaging to know if they are really sustainable/clean/ethical, especially those from the Philippines (83%) and Malaysia (72%). Brands that are making sustainability claims these days should ensure that they can be backed up. 

Greenwashing, according to Forrester, is "just the tip of the sustainability communications iceberg". Beyond green marketing, Forrester explained that sustainability issues will take up more of marketers’ working headspace. As they respond to values-driven customers, firms that embrace responsible marketing will get a lasting competitive advantage. Many brands have also hosted a slew of initiatives in conjunction with Earth Day to encourage more responsible consumption this year.

Related articles:
Study: Consumers just aren't buying your sustainability claims
Earth Day round up 2022: Brands walk the talk for sustainability

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