“First of Its Kind” Complaint Filed Against Chevron for Greenwashing Campaigns

Environmental groups on Tuesday filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) saying that oil giant Chevron’s ad campaigns and consumer reports mislead the public about the company’s environmental impact. The groups say that the complaint is the “first of its kind.”

Earthworks, Greenpeace USA and Global Witness, the groups behind the complaint, say that the company has violated the FTC’s Green Guides. “We are asking the FTC to issue an enforcement that would deter Chevron and other oil and gas companies from continuing their misinformation campaigns in the future,” Josh Eisenfeld, who campaigns for corporate accountability for Earthworks, told Truthout. Chevron, Eisenfeld points out, has emitted the second most emissions of any fossil fuel company since 1965.

The groups, Eisenfeld says, hope that the FTC will order Chevron to remove their misleading marketing claims and issue corrective statements. They also hope the FTC will bar future such statements from the company.

The FTC’s Green Guides were established in the 1990s and were aimed at ensuring that companies do not mislead customers about how environmentally friendly their products are — in other words, greenwashing. Chevron, the groups say, has participated in this greenwashing in their advertising campaigns and in a recent report touting its climate initiatives.

The 65-page “Climate Change Resilience” report that Chevron released last week opens with a Chevron executive’s claim that the company is “committed to helping achieve a lower-carbon future.”

But, the environmental groups point out, the report makes no new commitments to reduce the company’s greenhouse gas emissions on top of their already flimsy commitments. Meanwhile, Chevron announced plans to increase its total oil and gas production with new drilling sites in the Permian Basin and assured the oil and gas industry that they’re committed to maintaining their grip on the fossil fuel industry.

“Chevron is trying to appeal to consumers that care about the climate, the planet, and racial justice – while doubling down on climate-wrecking fossil fuels that pollute our communities and destabilize the global climate,” said Julieta Biegner, U.S. communications and campaign officer at Global Witness, in a statement. “We urge the FTC to take swift action and show big polluters they cannot get away with ‘greenwashing.’”

The green groups also condemn Chevron’s ad campaigns on social media and TV. These ads “mislead consumers with deceptive jargon such as ‘reducing emissions intensity’ while continuing to increase overall oil and gas extraction and production,” they write.

Oil and gas advertisements have come under scrutiny over the past years as it becomes increasingly clear and widely known that the fossil fuel industry has been perpetuating a decades-long disinformation campaign about whether global warming and the climate crisis are caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Ads by companies like Exxon, Chevron and BP have been criticized for parading their “climate commitments” in the form of investments in renewable energy while independent reports have found that these investments are actually only a small fraction of their yearly expenditures. Chevron, for example, spends less than 0.2 percent of its capital expenditures on renewable energy, the groups point out.

“The world’s second biggest polluter shouldn’t advertise that they’re good for the environment. Our fieldwork shows Chevron is regularly polluting methane — a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” said Eisenfeld in a statement. “Chevron’s plan to convince the public and investors that they’re fixing this problem, when they’re not, is dishonest and dangerous.”

These sorts of ads are an extension of the fossil fuel industry’s attempts to spread climate denial, the environmental groups say. “Chevron spent decades sowing doubt about the science of climate change,” said Anusha Narayanan, Greenpeace climate campaign manager. “For the oil and gas industry, delay and distraction are the new denial.”

Advertising has long been a part of the fossil fuel industry’s strategies to perpetuate climate denial, studies have found. “The amount of money big oil companies spend on advertising directly relates to how much Congress is talking about climate change legislation,” Robert Brulle, a Drexel University environmental sociologist told HEATED in 2019. “If Congress is silent, and there’s no worry about climate legislation, their spending on corporate promotion goes way down.”