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BP targeting Scots with ‘greenwashing’ Facebook adverts

BP has spent nearly £60,000 in the last three months on social media adverts targeted at Scots which champion the company’s green credentials, The Ferret can reveal. 

The money was spent on seven advertising campaigns aimed at Scots users of Facebook and Instagram. Only the Scottish Government has paid more for adverts targeting Scots on the social networks since the middle of December 2021, according to Facebook’s Ad Library.  

The adverts — which have garnered millions of views from users of the sites — focus on BP’s investments in green technologies, including renewable energy and electric vehicle charging points.

But environmental groups pointed out that BP’s spending on new oil and gas still “massively outweighs its investments in renewables or electric charging points”. They argued that the firm spends “big on social media” to draw attention to more “palatable” parts of its business. 

BP said the adverts reflect the businesses’ new emphasis on green technologies. The company pointed out that the adverts include transparency statements which make clear that the majority of its electricity still comes from oil and gas.

BP’s advert on Facebook. Campaigners argue it does not paint a full picture of its investments.

The oil giant’s chief executive, Bernard Looney, has promised that by 2025 the company will spend 40 per cent of its annual budget on the energy transition, and 50 per cent by the end of the decade. 

The company needs to cut down its investments in fossil fuels because burning them produces greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to the climate crisis. 

Currently, the vast majority of BP’s spending is on oil and gas extraction. BP has spent £2.4bn on clean energy since 2016, and £64bn on oil and gas in the same period. 

BP won the right to build a major offshore wind farm in the North Sea in January’s ScotWind leasing round. This was an auction which sold sections of the Scottish seabed to developers looking to build new wind turbines. 

The company’s success in the ScotWind auction is the subject of four of the seven advertising campaigns it has run in the last three months. BP said this success reflects a long term shift towards renewable energy investments.

The adverts feature prominent images of wind turbines with the term “green recovery” in large, bold print. The ScotWind adverts focus both on the environmental and economic benefits BP says the new wind farm will bring to Scotland. 

One of these adverts —  which ran on Facebook and Instagram between January and February 2022 —  cost the company between £30,000 and £35,000 and was viewed by more than one million people. All four of the ScotWind adverts were targeted solely at Scottish users of the sites. 

The ScotWind adverts note that the majority of BP’s electricity still comes from oil and gas, but in small print at the bottom of the page. 

The other three adverts were not specifically targeted at a Scottish audience but reached users across the UK. They focused on a study BP did into electric vehicle charging points across the country. 

As much as they would like the public to believe otherwise, BP remains one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. Their spending on new oil and gas projects massively outweighs their investments in renewables or electric charging points.

Caroline Rance, Friends of the Earth Scotland

BP has come under pressure in the past for its advertising. In 2019, lawyers for the charity ClientEarth lodged a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) over marketing campaigns by the company. 

ClientEarth alleged that BP had misled the public by focussing advertisements on its low carbon energy products, when in 2019 spending on oil and gas made up 96 per cent of its annual budget. 

BP said at the time that it “strongly rejected” the claim that its adverts were misleading, and that it was “committed to advancing a low carbon future”. 

The firm has recently scrapped its sponsorship of a series of major British cultural institutions — including the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Scottish Ballet — following pressure from climate activists. 

BP said these sponsorships were ended because the company was looking at “new ways to best use our talent, experience and resources” to help the UK transition to net-zero emissions.

Caroline Rance, a climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, told The Ferret that BP is “running out of places to splash their greenwash”. 

Rance said: “As much as they would like the public to believe otherwise, BP remains one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. Their spending on new oil and gas projects massively outweighs their investments in renewables or electric charging points.

“BP recognises oil and gas companies’ credibility is in tatters in the UK due to their obscene profits that drive up energy bills and their key role in worsening climate change. 

“They spend big on social media trying to draw attention away from these onto the much smaller parts of their operations which they think are palatable.”

In response to previous questions about its advertising, BP has said it recognises “that the world is on an unsustainable path and must do more to reduce emissions”. BP says its adverts reflect the company’s commitment to advance a low carbon future by showing people technologies which will help it reduce emissions.  

Photo Credit: iStock/Tanaonte

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