An update on BP's climate ads

An intergovernmental economic body ruled that BP’s “Possibilities Everywhere” campaign potentially violated rules governing corporate conduct.

Remember BP’s “Possibilities Everywhere” ad campaign?

We’ve documented it extensively over at the Fossil Fuel Ad Anthology—our project to collect climate-related advertisements from fossil fuel companies, on Instagram at @fossilfuelads.

We also covered it back in February, when BP announced it would stop “corporate reputation advertising” as part of its plan to do better on climate change.

Today, we have a brief update on that campaign. On Tuesday, an intergovernmental economic body ruled that BP’s “Possibilities Everywhere” campaign potentially violated international rules governing corporate conduct. If BP had not pulled the ad campaign back in February, the ruling said, a nonprofit’s case against the company alleging false advertising would likely have proceeded.

The ruling is important, because it sends a warning to the other Big Oil companies. If they continue spending hundreds of millions per year on ads to convince the public they are climate heroes—while actively destroying the planet with the rest of their budget—there may actually, for once, be consequences.

The backstory on BP’s climate ads

BP’s “Possibilities Everywhere” campaign was essentially a propaganda attempt by one of the world’s largest contributors to climate change to convince the public that it was, in fact, a climate champion.

The ads said BP was looking into the use of landfill waste to fuel aviation; funding projects to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete, and using natural gas—“the smart partner to renewables.” 

Here is BP taking up every inch of ad space on a CNN article about transitioning to renewable energy. In case you thought that was just a coincidence, here's another one: CNN's "Global Energy Challenge" series is supported by BP (but you wouldn't know that unless you saw it being promoted on BP's website). While BP says "We see possibilities everywhere," last year the company rejected the possibility of setting any emissions reduction targets for its products. #fossilfuelads #keepadvancing #bpads #cnnfossilfuelads
February 5, 2020

The ads did not, however, mention BP’s massive carbon footprint; its contribution to climate disinformation and policy; or the fact that the vast majority of its business remains centered on fossil fuel production.

So, in December of last year, the environmental NGO ClientEarth filed a false advertising complaint against BP with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group that sets international rules governing corporate conduct.

Before the OECD could consider the complaint, however, BP pulled the “Possibilities Everywhere” campaign—and said it would stop the practice of “corporate reputation advertising” entirely.

ClientEarth welcomed the announcement, but it was also sort of a bummer—because the OECD didn’t get the opportunity to rule on whether oil company climate ads violate international rules. If the OECD had ruled against BP, it would have been a warning to other oil companies that climate activists could use the OECD guidelines to hold them accountable for greenwashing.

It turned out not to be a total bust, though. Because in OECD’s initial assessment of ClientEarth’s case, published Tuesday, the group said it may have moved forward had BP not voluntarily pulled the ad campaign in question.

“There may have been grounds to consider the issues raised further.”

The OECD’s initial assessment of ClientEarth’s complaint against BP confirmed three important things—that ClientEarth had brought the complaint to the appropriate forum; that ClientEarth had “a legitimate interest” in the matter; that the complaint was “material and substantiated.”

“Had the global corporate advertising campaign still been live at the time of this Initial Assessment, there may have been grounds to consider the issues raised further,” the assessment read.

Because the ad campaign no longer exists, however, the OECD dismissed the complaint. But it still encouraged BP and ClientEarth to meet outside the OECD process “to discuss climate change and environment-related issues.”

I emailed both BP and ClientEarth to see if that process was underway, and if not, if the two parties would be willing to follow the OECD’s recommendations and meet.

ClientEarth said: “We welcome BP’s decision to take down its past advertising campaign as part of its commitment to end corporate reputation advertising. Now that our lawyers have received the [OECD’s] assessment, we would be keen to meet with BP to discuss their approach to advocating for progressive climate policies under their new Net Zero strategy.”

BP did not respond.


HEATED is one of the only national U.S. news publications to have covered ClientEarth’s complaint against BP. HEATED is also a 100 percent independent, reader-funded publication. Support it by becoming a paid subscriber today.

Related reading

BP’S NEW CLIMATE PR STRATEGY. Drilled News’s Amy Westervelt got her hands on some leaked documents from BP detailing their new strategy to win “societal license to operate”—a term we talk about a lot at this newsletter. Part of that strategy: continue tying natural gas to renewable energy (folks, it’s not that), and target the younger generation. Here’s a fun slide from the documents Amy got:

Weekend reading: badass lady edition

It’s Thursday, which means I won’t be back in your inbox ‘til Monday. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of climate journalism you can read in the meantime! Here are three climate stories I found compelling this week—one for every day we’re apart. Also, they’re all by women. Enjoy!

INSTAGRAM INFLUENCERS SHILL FOR FOSSIL FUELS. At Mother Jones, Rebecca Leber has a wild story about how the natural gas industry is paying 20-somethings on Instagram to gush about gas stoves. “Did you know natural gas provides better cooking results?” one of the captions reads. “Pretty nifty, huh?!” Sure is, Jenna! Nifty as hell!

THE SILENT DISCIPLES OF TRUMP’S CLIMATE DENIAL. “Midlevel managers” throughout the federal government “have internalized President Trump’s antagonism for climate science,” Lisa Friedman reports for the New York Times. This means they’re discouraging and rejecting climate-related work without explicitly being told to do so, because they fear what will happen to them if they don’t. “These are all people who went to the March for Science rallies,” a former Park Service employee said, “but then they got into the office on Monday and completely rolled over.” Woooooof.

WHO WILL JOE BIDEN LISTEN TO ON CLIMATE? That’s one question Kate Aronoff tried to figure out for her latest story for The New Republic. In it, she talks to progressives who are fighting to get climate-competent people in every aspect of the next administration—not just the Environmental Protection Agency.

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