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‘Your credibility is on the line’: Greenpeace boss urges ad agencies to distance from oil

Greenpeace protestors block the entrance to Shell’s oil refinery to protest fossil fuel ads/Image via Greenpeace

On the Global Day of Action at Cop26 in Glasgow, executive director of Greenpeace Jennifer Morgan sat down with The Drum to discuss how ad agencies can help remove big polluters’ social license to operate.

For more than 50 years, Greenpeace has been on the front lines of the campaign against climate change. Now, with time running out to achieve net zero and halt rising temperatures at 1.5C, the NGO is taking on the fossil fuels industry to address its damage to the planet and correct its greenwashing tactics.

Last month Jennifer Morgan, executive director of the organization, took to her kayak to join 40 Greenpeace activists in a peaceful protest that used floating ads to block the entrance to Shell’s oil refinery and mark the launch of its European Citizens Initiative (ECI) to ban fossil fuel advertising across the European Union.

Morgan says that fossil fuel companies are currently “pumping money” into advertising and sponsorships “in a last-ditch attempt to stay afloat.”

“But they have been ignoring their impact on the health of the planet for too long, and we feel the consequences are too serious to ignore,” she adds.

Greenpeace says that by launching the ECI it hopes to influence politics and take power away from fossil fuel companies – as well as open the door for similar initiatives around the world.

The ban would apply not only to fossil fuel companies including Shell but also to the industries powered by them, such as automotive and aviation, as well as their ability to sponsor events such as sports or music. Morgan hopes that if the ban is successful it will set an example for other unsustainable industries to be more strongly regulated against greenwashing in their advertising.

“Industries can no longer say they care about the climate or sustainability and then do the opposite; whether it be fast fashion, unsustainable food companies or those failing to make good on their promises to become net zero.

“We hope this ban will set a precedent for advertising that is honest to its consumers and the impact of their products on their health and the health of the planet.”

In the interim, Morgan says that agencies that work with fossil fuel clients have an opportunity to get ahead of legislation and cease work with the sector.

“Get out now” is her advice.

“Your credibility is on the line as the movement against greenwashing builds,” she says. “If you care about your own brand safety, don’t associate with these companies; and, if you want to be a really responsible and credible player in fighting the climate crisis, then get ahead by lobbying to get this legislation put in place.”

Morgan is of the view that ad agencies have a unique opportunity to contribute to the mindset shifts required to tackle the climate crisis.

“If they can get out of working with fossil fuels, and help organizations like us get these regulations in place to protect consumers, then I think they will be better placed to use their power to engage people on what really matters,” she continues.

“But marketing companies must first remove themselves from these damaging industries and move with the times – that is their responsibility now.”

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