On Wednesday, Chevron came under fire for greenwashing, in a first-of-its-kind complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission.
Global Witness, Greenpeace USA and Earthworks accused the oil giant of misleading consumers about its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The group claims Chevron’s pledge of “ever-cleaner energy”—which crops up in adverts touting its environmental records and investments in clean tech—obscures the fact it is one of the world’s biggest corporate polluters. There is no “ever cleaner”: Chevron’s production plans are poised to increase absolute emissions.
Ironically, the complaint comes just days after Chevron announced a campaign strategy centred on “higher returns, lower carbon.”
Chevron dismissed the allegations as “frivolous,” adding that it engages in “honest conversations about the energy transition.” But conversations, honest or otherwise, don’t equate to action. Hence the filing.
The US-based FTC investigates claims of deceptive advertising by companies. Lodging a complaint on the basis of false advertising represents a new line of attack for environmental groups already pursuing Big Oil companies in court.
Most of Chevron’s advertising budget is spent on clean energy campaigns. Only a fraction of its corporate budget goes towards clean energy. It was with much fanfare that the company announced a $3 billion investment in clean tech by 2028—yet that amounts to a mere 3% of Chevron’s annual capital budget. And while ‘conversations’ continue, the company plans to increase oil and gas production by 15% in the next four years.
It might be better than a 2050 target, but eight years is a fairly long timeframe. It’s certainly enough time for Chevron to double that 15%, for management to evade accountability and for the climate crisis to escalate.
Our own analysis shows there is very little progress happening now. Renewables account for virtually none of Chevron’s revenue. Like the thousands of other fossil-fuel companies that we track, Chevron’s commitment to clean energy seems to extend as far as its marketing department.
Expenditure on oil and gas earns the company a hefty -100% score on SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 (that’s—deep breath—No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-being, Clean Water and Sanitation, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life Below Water, and Life On Land). It scores nearly as badly on SDG 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions), and scrapes a -11 and -39 on SDGs 9 and 10 (Industry, Innovation Infrastructure and Reduced Inequalities), respectively.
We have found the gap between money and mouth is not unusual for an oil major. But the landmark FTC filing is one indicator that things are beginning to change in the US. Notably, it was not the only route of attack to open up this week. On Monday, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Allison Lee indicated that mandatory ESG disclosures for US companies were imminent. She added that the new rules would inevitably involve more transparency around political lobbying.
To date, many companies have been masters of compartmentalisation: able to say one thing to consumers and investors and quite another behind closed doors. But with a sympathetic administration making appointments to regulators, including the SEC and FTC, companies operating in the US will soon be unable to bury the naked truths that analytics like Util reveal.