New database tracks how Big Oil targets small communities

| 14th March 2018
A new database tracks the local-level deals that allow fossil fuel companies to greenwash their image and cheaply purchase a social license to operate within communities in which they have a vested interest. MAT HOPE reports

It’s very much tokenistic, and to the community they are being offered what might be a significant amount, but it’s a drop in ocean compared to the billion-dollar budgets of these fossil fuel companies.

Fossil fuel companies like to be seen to be doing good. That’s why you’ll see their logos splashed across school resources, kids’ sports team’s jerseys, and all kinds of ‘STEM’ celebrationsAnd it’s much more targeted than you might think. 

DeSmog UK’s new greenwash database - launched today - tracks fossil fuel companies’ involvement in local communities through funding and sponsorship. The entries come from hours of trawling through corporate twitter feeds and corporate social responsibility reports to find out where Big Oil companies are targeted their resources.

It shows that over the last two years, five major oil companies have been involved in more than 100 local programmes and events.

Billion-dollar

If that seems a lot, there’s a good reason why - their involvement allows the companies to greenwash their image and cheaply purchase a social license to operate within communities in which they have a vested interest.

The deals let companies look like good social actors, while keeping communities locked into their economic dependence on the fossil fuel industry, campaigners say.

Chris Garrard, co-director of campaign group Culture Unstained, says government budget cuts put an unfair burden on communities to accept such deals:

“I think it places the community in a very difficult position because there are pressures on funding within the arts and pressures on funding within schools and education so any support that’s being offered is going to be really welcome.

“It’s very much tokenistic, and to the community they are being offered what might be a significant amount, but it’s a drop in ocean compared to the billion-dollar budgets of these fossil fuel companies.”

Sponsorship deals

They give companies the opportunity to appeal to parents through their kids’ schools, while getting their logo in front of potential future consumers at an early age (even when it’s not needed). And they help companies to appeal to younger generations, at a time when jobs in the sector are unpopular.

Anna Markova, campaigner with Platform, says it’s important to remember that the deals aren’t set up just to be good for society, they’re also good for business:

“All these sponsorships are business decisions. They work out which audiences they want to buy the trust of and then they’ll think ‘ok, how do I buy that trust’. Or they might think a particular MP is important on the foreign affairs committee and we want that support so let’s sponsor something in the MP’s constituency.”

“One of the longer term impacts of this overall is that it sucks the life out community events, in the sense that it's a kind of corporate takeover of something that ought to be in a public space by people, for people.”

That’s why DeSmog UK’s new database is needed — to keep track of where fossil fuel companies are spending their resources, and who or what they are trying to influence.

The database will continue to be updated as new sponsorship deals are announced. If you know of any fossil fuel sponsorship happening in your community, please get in touch by emailing database@desmog.uk

This author

Mat Hope is editor of DeSmog UK, an investigative journalism outlet dedicated to unveiling corporate wrongdoing on climate change and the environment. He tweets @matjhope. Full disclosure: Brendan Montague, editor of The Ecologist, is a former editor of DeSmog UK.

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