Climate campaigners say some of the world’s biggest information technology firms are allowing rampant greenwashing by the fossil fuel industry on online platforms, despite their public statements supporting sustainability.
“One thing is for sure: fossil fuel information and influence campaigns are showing no signs of slowing down,” says Stop Funding Heat, a campaign targeting climate denial in the media. “Indeed, they may actually be increasing in size and ambition.”
And “this is where tech platforms, [which] have clearly stated commitments to climate change, could step in.”
Fossil fuel companies have a well-established history of using information and influence campaigns to mislead the public and undermine climate action. They have also strived to maintain business as usual despite scientific consensus that oil and gas development must stop immediately to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, says Stop Funding Heat.
Online platforms are among the many actors in the public relations industry that United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres slammed ahead of the COP 27 climate summit for “raking in billions” by promoting fossil fuel greenwashing, the campaign group says. But relatively little has been written about them. After reviewing estimates of the money taken by Facebook, Instagram, and Google to greenwash the fossil fuel industry, Stop Funding Heat says a conservative calculation would put the total “at least in the tens of millions of dollars every year.”
On other platforms with “little to no advertising transparency like LinkedIn, TikTok, or YouTube, it could be as bad or worse,” the group adds, making Big Tech “the dominant frontier of fossil fuel industry greenwash.”
The report says the most common tactics include ads or posts that overstate the fossil industry’s investment in clean energy and make claims about the efficiencies and pragmatism of fossil fuels. Advertisers also use fearmongering, position themselves as beneficial to local communities, and take advantage of one-way channels for fuzzy reporting.
Stop Funding Heat calls on major online platforms to publicly acknowledge the harms of greenwashing, ban advertising from fossil fuel producers, promote transparency in advertising, and reducing the viral reach of pro-fossil fuel content to align with their existing climate misinformation policies.
“These steps would eliminate major revenue generation from greenwashing activity and reduce the viral reach and impact of the most problematic content,” Stop Funding Heat says. And at that point, tech companies “would be seen as taking a leadership position on climate change during what Meta rightly calls ‘the defining decade’ for climate action.”