Brand Purpose Greenwashing Sports Marketing

British Cycling faces Shell sponsorship backlash


By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

October 11, 2022 | 7 min read

Prominent figures in cycling and environmental activism have expressed anger after British Cycling signed a partnership with Shell due to the oil and gas company’s lack of commitments on net zero.

British Cycling

British Cycling says the partnership fits with wider ambitions to work with more commercial partners / Image via British Cycling

The national governing body for the sport says the partnership will see a shared commitment to support cyclists and para-cyclists, drive innovation and most notably “accelerate British Cycling’s path to net zero" but climate organization Greenpeace calls the move a “blatant greenwash” and many, including Clean Creatives’ director Duncan Meisel, have disputed Shell's net-zero targets after its 2019 annual report recently presented to the US congress during a hearing about big oil's impact on climate change stated: “Shell has no immediate plans to move to a net-zero emissions portfolio over our investment horizon of 10-20 years.”

A spokesperson from Shell informed The Drum it does have ambitions to reach net zero by 2050. Now, however, recent research from the think tank InfluenceMap found that 70% of Shell's marketing goes on green claims against only 10% of its capital expenditure.

According to British Cycling, the partnership fits with its wider ambition to work with a broader range of commercial partners to support the delivery of the organization’s strategy, ‘Lead Our Sport, Inspire Our Communities’, with chief executive officer Brian Facer saying: “We’re looking forward to working alongside Shell UK over the rest of this decade to widen access to the sport, support our elite riders and help our organization and sport take important steps towards net zero – things we know our members are incredibly passionate about.”

David Bunch, Shell UK country chair, said: “We’re very proud to become an official partner to British Cycling. The partnership reflects the shared ambitions of Shell UK and British Cycling to get to net zero in the UK, as well as encouraging low and zero-carbon forms of transport such as cycling and electric vehicles.”

The decision has also already garnered further high-profile backlash, with Helen Ward, professor of public health at London’s Imperial College, stating that she has resigned from British Cycling with immediate effect. She tweeted: “I see it as a group campaigning for sustainable transport, and that does not fit well with oil money.”

A Shell spokesperson told The Drum: "We’re already investing billions of dollars in lower-carbon energy. To help alter the mix of energy Shell sells, we need to grow these new businesses rapidly. That means letting our customers know through advertising or social media what lower-carbon solutions we offer now or are developing, so they can switch when the time is right for them. The world will still need oil and gas for many years to come. Investment in them will ensure we can supply the energy people will still have to rely on, while lower-carbon alternatives are scaled up.”

Greenpeace UK policy director Dr Doug Parr added: “The idea of Shell helping British Cycling reach net zero is as absurd as beef farmers advising lettuce farmers on how to go vegan."

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“After being booted out of museums and other cultural institutions, Big Oil is looking at sports as the next frontier for its brazen greenwash. But its aim hasn’t changed – to distract from the inconvenient fact that the fossil fuel industry is making our planet uninhabitable.”

Parr’s comments refer to the announcement from cultural institutes, including the National Portrait Gallery and Scottish Ballet, that they will be ending sponsorship deals with BP ahead of schedule.

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