Extinction Rebellion march targets ‘tokenistic solutions’ of Cop26 sponsors

Climate campaigners Extinction Rebellion have taken to the streets of Glasgow on the third day of Cop26 to protest greenwashing – calling out the conference’s own sponsors for facilitating the climate crisis.

As the two-week-long summit gains momentum across the city, today’s theme (November 3) is finance. Extinction Rebellion used this as the platform for its demonstration, stating: “Cop26 sponsorship indicates that the UK government is going down the route of greenwashing rather than showing the real leadership needed to tackle climate breakdown in this critical decade for climate action.” It suggested that sponsors, including energy giant Hitachi and the National Grid, were merely backing green causes as a marketing tactic.

The issue of greenwashing is one that is gaining attention from climate activists, who are also calling out the marketing and advertising industry’s culpability in masking the damage done to the environment by its high-carbon, high-polluting clients.

One protestor told The Drum: “[Companies] are offering us tokenistic solutions to a problem they are creating. They say they’re doing something, it looks like they’re doing something, but look closely and it’s not very much at all.

“The big polluters use the same marketing companies that told us cigarettes don’t kill you, and now they’re telling us they’re not responsible for the climate crisis.”

Members of Extinction Rebellion, as well as other climate groups and concerned members of the public, gathered on the steps of Glasgow’s Buchanan Galleries where speakers included Todd Smith, a former airline pilot turned XR spokesperson, who addressed the crowds dressed in a pilot’s uniform to protest the role of the aviation industry in facilitating climate destruction. He declared that the UK government’s long-term strategy for sustainable aviation is also greenwashing.

This is not the first time Extinction Rebellion has targeted the advertising industry. In 2019 it demonstrated at the Cannes Lions festival, urging advertisers to act on the climate and ecological emergency facing the world. But two years on, its demands remain.

As another XR spokesperson told the crowds: “We’ve been told the same lies for 26 conferences now. We fall for deals that protect money and exploitation, we fall for headline announcements that mean nothing in practice. The root of the problem is finance.”

With more than 10 days of Cop26 to go, activist presence on the streets of Glasgow is likely to grow – however, in this instance it was specifically targeting the marketing and advertising industries.

The protest occurred hours before the Advertising Association (AA) hosted a panel on greenwashing in advertising featuring senior representatives from regulatory bodies from across the world. It can be viewed here and follows the ASA recently using its greenwashing powers for the first time in an action against Alpro.

The Drum will be on the ground across the conference, reporting on the latest events as it affects the creative, marketing and advertising industries. You can follow our coverage of events as they unfold on our new Cop26 hub here.