PR climate smog revealed

Greenwash Alert

PR climate smog revealed

Share on

PR giants like Edelman, McCann, Ogilvy and Publicis Groupe were under the microscope during New York Climate Week after the Clean Creatives campaign launched its 2023 “F-List”, an inventory of 500 fossil fuel contracts with 294 advertising and public relations agencies in 2022 and 2023.

Edelman working with the UAE since 2007

Perhaps the most damaging were efforts by Edelman to support the fossil fuel industry. New documents uncovered by DeSmog, a not-for-profit new organization focused on corporate disinformation, revealed Edelman earned millions to burnish the “green image” of the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers. 

That, in turn, helped land Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the oil and gas CEO of ADNOC, win approval to preside over this year’s United Nations climate change negotiations, COP28, in Dubai in November.

Read Our story on Al Jaber here: 

U.S. Justice Department documents

Citing hundreds of pages of documents filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, DeSmog traces Edelman’s US$6.4-million campaign from 2007 to 2009 to boost the country’s green image. 

This award-winning public relations drive laid the groundwork for the United Nations to choose the UAE as the host of this year’s crucial climate talks with al Jaber as COP 28 president, even though the OPEC nation plans to invest $150 billion in new oil and gas production over the next four years,” says DeSmog.

“CEO Richard Edelman has turned Edelman PR into the leading agency for major polluters and fossil fuel companies,” says Clean Creatives Executive Director Duncan Meisel.

Edelman declined to comment on the campaign but shared that it has incorporated its climate principles into its client acceptance process, discontinued work with some clients, and turned down new opportunities that did not meet its standards. 

F for fossil fuel PR

The 2023 F-List documents the agencies that choose to continue working with fossil fuel companies despite the scientific consensus that this work is destroying the planet,” Clean Creatives writes. “It’s a snapshot of an industry in transition — and the laggards allowing themselves to fall behind on the most important issue of our time.”

The report points to two holding companies, WPP and Omnicom, with 94 fossil PR contracts between them, even after WPP signed a global net-zero pledge. Independent agency Pitch Digital holds 22 contracts, mostly with Canadian oil sands companies.

Clean Creatives says more than 700 agencies in 38 countries and more than 1,700 “creatives” have pledged to refuse to work for fossil fuel companies.

Orange is the new PR

“Orange is not our color. It’s great for that chunky cardigan you love — but not for our skyline,” says the Clean Creatives poster created to enlighten McCann staffers of the company’s fossil fuel work. “Why was the sky orange? Because fossil fuel companies like Saudi Aramco, Petro-Canada, Copec and more keep polluting — and McCann still works for them.”

“This was weird. New Yorkers didn’t always have to worry about wildfires. Or ‘100-year’ subway floods every year. Or worse,” says a similar Clean Creatives poster made for  Edelman employees. “Your employer is working for fossil fuel companies Shell, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, TotalÉnergies and more. They’re causing these disasters.”

The Desmog and Clean Creatives reports are part of a growing effort to create to expose the sophisticated disinformation campaigns of the fossil fuel industry and pressure advertising and PR firms to stop accepting fossil fuel company work. Since Clean Creative’s new campaign launch, 23 agencies have signed a pledge that they will not work for the fossil fuel industry that is causing climate change. 

“Fossil fuel companies are lying about everything,” Meisel said. “Everything begins with the fossil fuel companies working with an ad or PR agency.”

The Clean Creatives launch during Climate Week in New York got the attention of a range of PR and mainstream media as companies meet to discuss the role of business in addressing climate change. 

This story previously appeared in The Energy Mix.

Written by

Mitchell Beer

Mitchell is founding publisher and managing editor of The Energy Mix. He is rumoured to be a frighteningly fast writer, after working seven years as a journalist, 35-plus as a commercial writer, 45-plus as a sustainable energy and climate specialist, and now again as a journalist and editor. In October, 2019, he delivered a TEDx Ottawa talk on building wider public support for faster, deeper carbon cuts. He received the Clean50 Lifetime Achievement Award in October 2022.