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Exxon is greenwashing on its zero emission pledges

Oil company Exxon has committed to reaching ‘zero emissions’ by 2050, but this does not include any caused by burning its products and only counts in-house ‘operations’. It’s the latest example of big business greenwashing for public favour.

Exxon is one of the world’s leading gas and oil companies – alongside Shell and BP – and is responsible for a huge chunk of our yearly carbon emissions.

It has faced routine accusations of climate denial, regressive policy, and was even discovered to have known about climate change as far back as 1981, seven years before it was a pressing public issue.

Now, in an effort to improve its public reputation, Exxon has announced ‘sweeping’ changes to reduce its emissions, with an ambition of reaching net zero by 2050. However, a quick look beyond the flashy headlines and you’ll find frustratingly vague and limiting promises that do little to meaningfully spark hope.

The pledge only includes Exxon’s ‘operations’ and does not cover the emissions that come as a result of burning its products. Given this an oil and gas company, no promise in this area means that the overall net emissions that Exxon is responsible for will not be reduced to net zero – or even anywhere close.

Keep in mind that climate experts insist the entire planet needs to reach net zero by 2050 at the very latest to avoid the worst of global temperature increases.

Exxon will not be covering emissions from gasoline, fuels from refined oils, natural gases in homes, or other assets such as oil fields that it has financial stakes in. It is only committing to making its facilities and processes greener, which is too little and far too late.

Exxon only began to make any significant attempt to improve its practices last year, after activists and investors criticised the company for being a ‘dinosaur’ that would not survive in a clean energy world.

It was forced to elect two new directors nominated by several investors after losing a vote against a handful of company-picked individuals. This was the first time this had ever happened in Exxon’s history and demonstrated the urgency that is needed to confront the climate crisis.

We’re still not seeing enough, however. Right now Exxon is only committing to ‘Scope 1’ and ‘Scope 2’ emissions, which are ones caused by the company directly. ‘Scope 3’ is where 85% of its emissions come from – customers using its fuels. Until that’s covered, experts say this is all a load of hot air, for lack of a better term.

Which are other companies are greenwashing?

Over the years we’ve mentioned greenwashing a fair few times, as it is one of the biggest issues in tackling climate change.

Not only is it poor advertisement and misinformation at worst, but greenwashing also lures the public into a false sense of security, assured that they’re free to continue consuming fuels, using plastics, and polluting as normal without fear of imminent disaster. Companies are changing and things are looking up, right?

In reality, nearly every green initiative laid out by huge, multi-billionaire dollar corporations will have strings attached. At the very least, the issue will be more complicated than it seems from the outside, with many factors making it either extremely difficult or impossible for brands to reach their ‘promises’ or ‘goals’.

Coca-Cola’s ridiculous emphasis on recyclable bottles despite being the biggest plastic polluter on Earth is a good example.

Shell likes to parade its electric vehicles in front of investors, yet behind-the-scenes it continues to lobby against climate policy and, most recently, received the green light to begin blasting sound waves at a whale breeding ground in an attempt to search for oil.

It also decided to sponsor a climate exhibition at the London Science Museum in order to prevent any negative press or information being published toward Shell.

Still not convinced? Banks are hugely invested in the fossil fuel industry, pumping billions into coal and oil extraction while simultaneously running ad campaigns that emphasise a cleaner future under the almighty reign of our financial overlords. Don’t buy it, folks.

Unfortunately, Exxon is another big brand to add to a long list of greenwashing advertisement and announcements. Until we see more meaningful, quicker action, this is nothing to celebrate.

Time is running out – and it’ll take a bigger push than this to stop things spinning out of control.


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