"Saving our planet is now a communications challenge"
- Sir David Attenborough
Mining and fossil fuel executives know that they need community support to operate, and that losing public support is their main business risk.
As community alarm about global warming increases, coal, petrol and methane gas companies are also under pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But, instead of changing their businesses, they have fought to protect their profits through public relations, marketing and sponsorships.
This has been recognised by the IPCC
“A good number of corporate agents have attempted to derail climate mitigation by targeted lobbying and doubt-inducing media strategies. Corporate advertisement and brand building strategies attempt to deflect corporate responsibility to individuals, and/or to appropriate climate care sentiments in their own brand building; climate change mitigation is uniquely framed through the choice of products and consumption, avoiding the notion of the political collective action sphere.”
IPCC Report (AR6 WGIII Chapter 5)
Here’s some of their tactics.
Of Australia’s top greenhouse gas polluters, the biggest advertisers are AGL, Ampol, Energy Australia and Origin Energy.
AGL spends the most, dropping $98 million on marketing in FY 2020/21 and more on grants and political donations.
In the same year, Energy Australia spent $28.2m on traditional ads and Origin Energy spent $32.4m plus more on sponsorships and donations.
On digital platforms, Ampol was the biggest spender.
According to Pathmatics, it conservatively spent $2.5m on digital ads between April 2021 and April 2022 – as part of a $165m rebrand. Origin Energy came in second, spending $2.4m over the same period, followed by AGL with $1.6m.
Using Neilson, Pathmatics and other publicly available data, we estimate the top five spenders conservatively invested $238.3m on social licence and influence in the 2020/21 financial year.
Estimated spend on marketing activities 2020/21
Fossil fuel corporations rarely talk about their products. They prefer to trick you into thinking they are friendly, clean, innovative, sustainable, caring, quirky, cute, essential for daily life and very, very patriotic. They do this through clever use of attractive images, nice colours and vague promises.
Greenwashing is defined as “the act or practice of making a product, policy, activity, etc. appear to be more environmentally friendly or less environmentally damaging than it really is.”
Research in the Journal of European Consumer and Market Law warns about the pernicious effects of fossil fuel companies’ “greenwash advertising” that misguides the public, and makes it harder to hold them accountable for their damaging activities. BP, for example, has been criticised for using ads to promote its renewable energy projects, which only make up 4% of its total investments, while 96% remains in oil and gas.
Numerous companies that have faced overseas courts or advertising regulators for greenwashing. In Australia, Santos is being sued for claiming gas is ‘clean’ in its annual report. But Australia’s ad regulator, AANA, has only upheld one case on environmental grounds. In short, Australia is behind the rest of the world when it comes to stopping greenwashing.
There is a thing called the ‘halo effect’; when you have positive feelings about a company just because of who it is associated with. Fossil fuel companies are using this when they sponsor your favourite sports, cultural or community group.
Fossil fuel companies sponsor Australia’s national rugby union team, the national netball team, Surf Life Saving Australia and the Tour Down Tour Under. In addition they sponsor teams in AFL, NRL and football. You may be surprised to hear that Chevron sponsors the Australia Day Awards committee and Inpex sponsors Questacon, the national science museum. Organisations in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory are awash with gas money – which helps buy government influence and create the illusion that we need them to have a prosperous economy.
Stopping fossil fuel marketing will reduce demand for high emissions products, help clean our air and put us on a faster path to a clean, renewable future.