Accountability groups file first of its kind FTC complaint against Chevron for misleading consumers on climate action

March 16, 2021 —  Earthworks, Global Witness, and Greenpeace USA jointly filed a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaint against Chevron for unlawfully deceptive advertisements which overstate investment in renewable energy and its commitment to reducing fossil fuel pollution.  

The complaint claims that Chevron is consistently misrepresenting its image to appear climate-friendly and racial justice-oriented, while its business operations overwhelmingly rely on climate-polluting fossil fuels, which disproportionately harm communities of color.

This complaint would be the first to petition the FTC to use its Green Guides against a fossil fuel company for misleading consumers on the climate and environmental impact of its operations. 

The Federal Trade Commission protects “consumers and competition by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices.” In 1992, the FTC created a set of general principles called the “Green Guides,” to protect consumers from the growing trend of misleading environmental marketing claims (also known as “greenwashing”).

Chevron, the second most polluting company in the world, has contributed more than 43.35 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in greenhouse gases since 1965 and currently has no plan to reduce its overall emissions. Between 2010-2018 Chevron spent only 0.2% of its capital expenditures–roughly $26 million a year of its $13 billion average annual capital expenditure–on low-carbon energy sources.

Despite its minimal investment in low-carbon energy, Chevron spends  millions of dollars in advertising and marketing campaigns to win over consumers with false and misleading claims about the environmental impacts of its product.

The complaint reveals numerous direct violations of the FTC’s Green Guides including paid social media promotions, TV advertisements, and other digital ads, including claims that:

  • Imply that Chevron’s business operations do not harm (and even help) the environment, despite numerous environmental disasters;

  • It produces “ever-cleaner” or “clean” energy, while spending less than 0.2% of it’s capital expenditures on renewable energy sources;

  • Misrepresent the benefits of biomethane or “renewable natural gas”;

  • Mislead consumers with deceptive jargon such as “reducing emissions intensity” while continuing to increase overall oil and gas extraction and production.

On March 10, 2021, Chevron announced a new “Climate Change Resilience” report that doubled down on many of the same greenwashing tactics the company has relied on to mislead consumers for years. The report includes:

  • No new commitments to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions;

  • No commitments to comprehensively reduce pollution and toxic hazards for communities living near its facilities;

  • Negligible investment in efforts to reduce its carbon footprint;

  • Doubling down on unproven technologies like carbon capture;

  • Plans to increase its total oil and gas production, based on expansion in the Permian Basin in the US.

Julieta Biegner, US Communications and Campaign Officer at Global Witness, said: “Chevron is trying to appeal to consumers that care about the climate, the planet, and racial justice – while doubling down on climate-wrecking fossil fuels that pollute our communities and destabilize the global climate, as our complaint shows. This practice cannot go unchecked, and is in fact what the FTC’s Green Guides were designed to do: prevent companies from misleading consumers with egregious claims about the environmental impacts of their products. We urge the FTC to take swift action and show big polluters they cannot get away with ‘greenwashing.”

Josh Eisenfeld, Corporate Accountability Campaigner at Earthworks, said “The world’s second biggest polluter shouldn’t be allowed to advertise that they’re good for the environment. Our fieldwork shows Chevron is regularly polluting methane–a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Chevron’s plan to convince the public and investors that they’re fixing this problem, when they’re not, is dishonest and dangerous.”

Anusha Narayanan, Climate Campaign Manager at Greenpeace USA, said: “For the oil and gas industry, delay and distraction are the new denial. Chevron spent decades sowing doubt about the science of climate change. Now in the face of widespread public support for climate action, the company is misrepresenting its role in the climate crisis and deceptively casting itself as an ally. Climate denial is not a victimless crime, and it’s time for Chevron to be held accountable.”

In accordance with the FTC rules, Earthworks and Global Witness request the removal of these misleading marketing claims, the dissemination of corrective statements, and the assessment of appropriate relief according to the law.

The complaint was filed today by Earthworks, a national environmental organization with more than a decade of experience documenting the oil and gas industry’s methane pollution across the world through research publications and the use of optical gas imaging cameras by certified thermographers, and Global Witness, an international watchdog organization that investigates and challenges those who harm people and the planet and Greenpeace USA, an independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future. They are represented by Richman Law and Policy, a social justice law firm and certified B Corp specializing in consumer protection class actions; representation of nonprofits and progressive businesses; and civil rights litigation concerning police misconduct.