Chevron, the world’s second largest polluter, is under scrutiny over social media, television and other marketing campaigns that consistently misrepresent its image to appear climate-friendly and socially responsible, while its business operations overwhelmingly rely on climate-polluting fossil fuels, which disproportionately harm communities of color. Today, Earthworks, Global Witness, and Greenpeace USA, represented by Richman Law and Policy, have jointly filed a ground-breaking complaint to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concerning the oil giant’s misleading ads.
The complaint argues that Chevron’s misrepresentation of its business activities goes against advertising guidelines established by the FTC called the “Green Guides,” designed to help marketers avoid making misleading environmental claims. FTC action on this complaint would be the first use of the Green Guides against any fossil fuel company from misleading the public on the climate and environmental impact of its operations.
We are calling on the FTC to require that Chevron remove these ads, refrain from releasing similar ads in the future, and face any relevant penalties as just and proper.
Chevron is attempting to appeal to climate-conscious consumers through a number of claims demonstrated in the complaint to be false and misleading. These core deceptions include:
Figure 1: An October 14, 2020 Tweet positions Chevron as addressing climate change head-on: “We’re taking action to address climate change […].” The Tweet’s corresponding image contains the text: “[W]e believe addressing climate change requires global engagement.
In reality, the complaint contends that Chevron’s investments constitute a miniscule percentage of its total expenditures. A recent complaint the D.C. Attorney General filed against Chevron and other fossil fuel companies alleges that only 0.2% of Chevron’s capital expenditures between 2010-2018 were in low-carbon energy sources. And Chevron’s annual report from 2019 shows that its net production of crude oil, natural gas, and oil-equivalent all increased in 2019 compared to 2018 and 2017.
Figure 2: Chevron’s website includes various claims that reinforce its supposed commitment to protecting the environment, including: “We protect the environment through innovative and responsible operations.”
In reality, Chevron is the second most polluting company in the world and has contributed more than 43.35 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in greenhouse gases since 1965.
Figure 3: A television advertisement from 2020 narrates: “Our search to transform farm waste into renewable natural gas led Chevron to partner with California Bioenergy; working to provide an alternative source of power for a cleaner way forward”
In reality, Chevron’s use of biomethane is not “clean” or a truly renewable fuel source. Chevron’s biomethane projects rely in large part on raising animals in high concentrations on factory farms, which have adverse impacts for human and environmental health and perpetuate a damaging and unsustainable agricultural model. Biomethane, like fossil gas, is also a powerful greenhouse gas – and leaks into the atmosphere throughout the supply chain, directly contributing to global heating.
Figure 4: On June 5, 2020, Chevron posted an image to its official Twitter account that reads: “[R]acism has no place in America . . . we stand in support of the black community and all those seeking systemic change.” The accompanying caption says: “black lives matter. words from our leaders: https://chevron.co/blmtw.”
In reality, Chevron’s business operations exacerbate racial inequalities and disproportionately harm people of color. For instance, in 2012, Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, California had a fire that resulted in 15,000 people — including many from the city’s roughly 20 percent Black and 41 percent Latino population — needing medical attention for respiratory problems, chest pains and headaches caused by toxic smoke from the blaze. Chevron later pleaded no contest to six criminal charges and agreed to pay $2 million in fines. And just this past February, a recent oil spill at Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, California leaked around 600 gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay.
This complaint is necessary to ensure that Chevron’s use of any claims found to be misleading in its advertising and marketing to appear climate-friendly and racial justice-oriented do not go unchecked.
The FTC should hold Chevron accountable for any findings of corporate “greenwashing.”