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CONCORD, NH: A project by PR and advertising professionals to highlight agencies greenwashing the climate crisis has published an ‘F-List’ of 500 fossil fuel contracts from 294 different PR and advertising agencies worldwide, including 103 in Asia.

Created to expose companies that knowingly work against scientific consensus, the list includes agencies in Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

Of the 103 contracts between 2022 and 2023, 58 were for national/regional oil and gas companies and 45 for large global companies. Indonesia had 15 from four agencies and India 11 from 11.

Project author Clean Creatives says campaigns by major polluters can be grouped into two categories: encouraging customers to buy more and ‘purpose washing’ to persuade people to believe they are doing good.

Case studies show how Shell, Caltex (Chevron) and Denko buy loyalty through prize giveaways for items including a Porsche, gold bars, BMW motorbikes and cash; how companies like telecommunications giant PTT purpose wash via CSR efforts by planting mangroves instead of taking responsibility for their multiple oil spills; and how Big Oil companies use TikTok to appeal to younger generations and organise eco-runs where consumers must purchase fuel before entering.

"Asia has a complicated relationship with fossil fuels,” says Clean Creatives Research Director Nayantara Dutta. “The oil and gas industry has created growth and opportunity for many people while, at the same time, putting the most climate-vulnerable region at deeper risk. In Asia, fossil fuel campaigns can be especially insidious and manipulative, leading to mis-education and making people believe that climate change is their personal responsibility.”

The pressure group has also identified trade associations exerting their members’ influence over consumers. In the U.S. they include the American Petroleum Institute, American Coal Council, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, Coal-to-Liquids Coalition, Coal Utilization Research Council, Lignite Energy Council, National Council of Coal Lessors, National Mining Association, World Coal Association as well as U.S. state-based coal associations.

In 2022, over 450 scientists signed a letter calling on PR and advertising agencies to stop working with fossil fuel companies and spreading climate disinformation.

“We climate scientists have been trying to raise the climate crisis alarm for decades, but we've been drowned out by these fossil fuel industry-funded PR campaigns,” says climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann. “Greenwashing is a primary tactic in what I call the 'New War’ on climate action and it must be called out for what it is - denial under another name.”

The open letter, in partnership with Clean Creatives and the Union of Concerned Scientists, says scientists are constantly faced with advertising and PR efforts from fossil fuel companies trying to obfuscate or downplay their data.

“For decades, fossil fuel companies have used greenwashing campaigns to hide from public accountability and attack climate scientists who speak the truth,” explains Dr. Gary Yohe, Huffington Foundation professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus, at Wesleyan University.

“PR and advertising agencies that support greenwashing hold major responsibility for letting the climate crisis get this far. I hope this letter will serve as a wakeup call for them to preserve their credibility by ending their complicity.”

Yohe is a senior author for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and served as vice-Chair of the third US National Climate Assessment.

“Scientists have been sounding the climate alarm for decades, but they’ve been drowned out by billions of dollars of PR and advertising from the fossil fuel industry,” notes Jamie Henn, the director of Fossil Free Media, home of the Clean Creatives campaign. “Now, scientists are saying enough is enough. The pollution of our airwaves is inextricably tied to the pollution of our atmosphere. The only way to clean up both is to stop this propaganda at the source: the PR and ad agencies that continue to work on behalf of fossil fuels. It’s time for creatives to come clean.”

One way they can do that is to ask themselves a simple question before they act: Is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?
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