Edelman promised to ditch coal. Then it took $3M from a coal group.
The world's biggest PR firm has a lot of big climate talk. Here's one example of how it walks.
A few weeks ago, HEATED reported that Edelman was breaking one of its oldest climate promises.
Today, we have a new story showing that the number one PR firm for fossil fuel companies is breaking yet another longstanding climate pledge.
This reporting raises timely questions about Edelman’s trustworthiness. Last month, in response to growing controversy over Edelman’s work for fossil fuel clients, CEO Richard Edelman released a new list of climate promises in an attempt to boost public trust in the company.
The list sounds nice, but all PR does. The important question is: can Edelman’s promises be trusted? Or are they just as vague and meaningless as Exxon’s net zero plan? (Exxon, to be clear, is an Edelman client).
Today, we have a look at just one example of how Edelman walks after big climate talk. Then, we have a list of related Edelman news. If you find it all useful and want to hear more, smash that subscribe button below.
Edelman promised to ditch coal clients. Then it took $3M from a coal industry group.
By Connor Gibson
In 2015, the PR firm Edelman pledged to stop working with coal industry clients, saying they “pose a threat to the company’s legitimacy and its bottom line.”
But from 2016 to 2020, the company took $3,061,861 in contract payments from the National Mining Association (NMA), one of the nation’s largest coal industry lobbying groups.
The NMA disclosed its payments to Edelman in its IRS tax filings. HEATED obtained the most recent filing directly from the NMA.
Edelman did not respond to requests to clarify the work it’s doing for the NMA, or explain how that work upholds its 2015 promise.
It’s possible Edelman doesn’t consider the NMA to technically be a coal industry client, because the trade association represents all sorts of mining corporations. But lobbying for more coal production is among the NMA’s top priorities. Its members include the largest U.S. coal mining companies, including Peabody, Arch, Alliance, and Drummond. The CEOs of each of these companies were all NMA directors as of 2020, and NMA’s current chairman is CONSOL Energy CEO Jimmy Brock.
Because of this, the NMA routinely misrepresents climate science, which states plainly that a safe climate cannot coexist with continued coal production. The organization’s most recent climate position statement claims to support climate solutions, yet says coal should remain a significant energy source. It also does not mention supporting net zero emissions, which is the bare minimum goal necessary for an effective climate solution.
The NMA has also participated in some of the most historically notable climate change disinformation campaigns, including creating anti-climate propaganda for school teachers. A 2016 NMA Crisis Communications document preserved by DeSmog instructed its members to emphasize the “natural phenomenon” of the greenhouse effect rather than discussing the unnatural impacts of fossil fuels.
The NMA’s coal lobbying has had real consequences for the climate. The group fought U.S. participation in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, and lobbied numerous Trump administration officials to pull the U.S. out of the agreement, among other anti-climate priorities the former president swiftly accommodated.
It’s unclear what type of work Edelman is currently doing for the NMA. Before its 2015 pledge, Edelman was helping the NMA conduct polling for a campaign called “Minerals Make Life.” The Minerals Make Life website routinely promotes coal.
It is clear, however, that Edelman is still comfortable working with a group committed to keeping coal alive, consequences for the planet be damned. And that raises questions about why Edelman made its anti-coal pledge in the first place.
Edelman’s promise to ditch coal clients was not made solely out of the goodness of its corporate heart. The firm had been facing public pressure to drop its coal clients since 2013, when an Edelman employee working on promoting coal exports joked about having to deny climate change.
When Edelman finally caved in 2015, it told the Guardian that it would avoid taking on clients that promoted climate misinformation. “When you are trying in some way to obfuscate the truth or use misinformation and half-truths … that is something we would never propose [or] support our client doing,” a company executive said. “On climate denial and coal those are where we just said this is absolutely a no-go area.”
Since then, Edelman has strengthened its stated climate commitments. CEO Richard Edelman released a new list of climate principles for the company last month, calling climate change “the biggest problem facing society.” While he did not commit to dropping fossil fuel clients, Edelman did say that moving forward, the company would only accept clients that take "meaningful action" towards "credible net zero goals."
Whether Edelman’s work for the NMA continues will determine how meaningful those new principles really are.
Connor Gibson is a freelance researcher and writer at Grassrootbeer Investigations. He focuses on the political and social influence of fossil fuel companies. Check out his newsletter by clicking the button below.
Connor worked for Greenpeace USA from 2010-2020, which included lots of activism work related to Edelman. Next week, he’ll be taking us through some of his own experiences with the firm. Make sure you’re subscribed to HEATED to get it.
More related Edelman news:
Edelman’s new climate pledge says it’s sticking with polluters, but only if they have “credible net zero plans.” (Adweek, 1/7/22)
Clean Creatives’ statement on Edelman’s new pledge says it’s all a bunch of B.S. “None of the major oil companies have a credible plan to stop production and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. That’s why they’ve hired Edelman to mislead the public about their true intentions, which are to keep making money while destroying our climate.” (Clean Creatives, 1/9/22).
More than 450 scientists call on Edelman and other PR/ad firms to stop working for oil and gas companies. (Washington Post, 1/19/22).
A report shows Edelman has been helping Exxon with an ad campaign to oppose climate regulations. (Gizmodo, 9/22/21)
PR executive Keith Zakheim explains why his company won’t work for fossil fuel companies: “While we are open to working with climate-tech companies whose technologies may be used to mitigate carbon emissions and environmental degradation of oil companies, we will not serve as an AOR for any company that is in the business of extracting fossil fuels. Firms like Antenna believe our 100% renewable-energy future is coming, and we want to be on the side of the companies and innovators who are making it happen.” (PRWeek, 12/16/21)
Climate scientist Michael Mann tells Adweek that Edelman’s climate pledge is just “face-saving greenwash” if it doesn’t include dropping fossil fuel clients. (Adweek, 1/12/22)
Catch of the Day
Fish got a new shirt.
He’s wearing his shirt in honor of Fritz, a shirt-loving pup who belonged to reader Olivia. Fritz recently crossed the rainbow bridge after 17 and a half love-filled years, and is dearly missed.
Along with this love of shirts, Olivia says, Fritz “always brought a stubborn commitment to his beliefs, and a positive, loving approach to life that all of us working to address climate change could benefit from.”
That seems like a good note to end on. We love you, Fritz! See you all next week.
Run free and happily on the other side of the rainbow bridge, Fritz.