Spotlight on Creative Industry’s Fossil Fuel Work

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    Stockholm (NordSIP) – Investors are becoming increasingly wary of investing in companies that actively lobby behind the scenes against climate change action, while publicly supporting the goals of the Paris Agreement.  The decades-long efforts of oil companies to withhold information that could be detrimental to their business lines, or spread disinformation to delay the adoption of low-carbon energy solutions has been gradually uncovered over the last few years thanks to lawsuits and Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by investigative journalists and NGOs  This has led to major activist institutional investors such as Sweden’s AP7 deciding to face the problem head-on by directly challenging the worst culprits as part of their Climate Lobbying theme.  Asset managers and corporations are also being challenged over their connections with industry associations, which are often used by the fossil fuel sector as the conduit for coordinated communications strategies against climate policy action.

    Fossil fuel industry delaying tactics

    Alongside these under-the-radar lobbying activities, Fossil fuel companies have also been accused of engaging in more explicit marketing and PR campaigns that amount to greenwashing at best, or that stray into the realm of pure disinformation in the worst cases.  The latter is epitomised by this pseudo-scientific 1992 video financed by the US-based Western Fuels Association extolling the benefits of increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

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    State and corporate fossil fuel producers cannot design and implement these lobbying and marketing campaigns on their own, hence the growing scrutiny of advertising, public relations (PR) and marketing firms by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  In its Working Group III report that was released in April 2022, the IPCC warned that climate misinformation can seriously jeopardise action on climate mitigation.  This was the first time that climate change denial and disinformation had been directly addressed in an IPCC report.

    Creative industry rebels seek to name-and-shame peers

    PR, marketing and advertising firms could plead: “Don’t shoot the messenger,” as they are ultimately hired to present their clients’ positions to the best of their ability.  However, faced with the scale of the climate crisis a growing number of firms in the sector have decided to choose a side, hence the formation of campaign groups Clean Creatives and Comms Declare.  The two organisations have joined forced to produce the second iteration of their F-List report, which aims to bring to light the agencies behind the global communications strategies of the fossil fuel industry.  In a fragmented industry, many of these firms are part of umbrella holding companies, some of which have made their own climate related pledges.  Working for energy companies is neither illegal nor necessarily involved with disinformation.  The F-List report therefore highlights situations where firms’ advertising claims are being challenged in court or where there are numerous instances of controversy.

    Taking a stand against fossil fuels

    The supposedly neutral role of PR, marketing and advertising agencies is being more vocally questioned.  There will be grey areas, but the urgency of the climate crisis is compelling many professionals in the sector into decisive action.  Wearing a “Ban Fossil Ads” t-shirt, former advertising executive Gustav Martner took a very public stand at the 2022 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, formally handing back an award that he had received back in 2007 for work his agency had done for a major car manufacturer.  While pointing out the problems with pro-fossil fuel marketing, the IPCC also acknowledges the powerful positive role that the sector could also play in accelerating positive climate action.  Creative firms are also realising that a new generation of talent is choosing to vote with its feet and will only take on roles at companies that have disengaged from the fossil fuel sector.  There is still good money to be made from the fossil fuel lobby, but with the unwelcome scrutiny that comes with it the F-List 2023 may be destined to be significantly shorter than its predecessors.

    Image courtesy of Pexels from Pixabay (edited)
    Richard Tyszkiewicz
    Richard Tyszkiewicz
    Richard has over 30 years’ experience in the international investment industry. He has worked closely with major Nordic investors on consultancy projects, focusing on the evaluation of external asset managers. While doing so, Richard built up a strong practical understanding of the challenges faced by institutional investors seeking to integrate ESG into their portfolios. Richard has an MA degree in Management and Spanish from St Andrews University, and sustainability qualifications from Cambridge University, PRI and the CFA Institute.
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