New research shows Google makes millions by greenwashing Big Oil ahead of COP 27

Posted on November 02, 2022 in Press releases.

Greenwashing on Google Report cover. "Greenwashing on Google: How Google Profits by Cleaning Big Oil's Reputation"

“Google has repeatedly promised to stop profiting from climate change disinformation. Our latest research shows that Google has broken this promise, and continues to profit by helping some of the world’s worst polluters to distort their role in causing the climate crisis”. Imran Ahmed, CEO, Center for Countering Digital Hate.

A new report, Greenwashing on Google, from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) comprehensively details how Google enables greenwashing by Big Oil.

‘Greenwashing’ is a strategy that helps companies appear more climate-friendly and environmentally sustainable than they really are, by distracting the public from the fact that their core business causes substantial environmental harm, and by drawing disproportionate attention to minor successes.

CCDH found Google has allowed Big Oil to buy ads on Google searches for queries such as “how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?”, “eco-friendly companies”, and “net zero”. The ads redirect searchers to content “greenwashing” these companies’ role in the climate crisis.

Google has previously promised to stop profiting from and monetizing climate denial content. 

The report studies the money five companies spent on Google Search ads over the last two years – ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Shell, and Saudi Aramco. This is what we found:

  • BP spent over $5.3m on greenwashing ads targeting search queries about methane, renewable energy and climate change. BP’s ad spend doubled in the last year.
  • ExxonMobil spent nearly $4m on greenwashing ads primarily targeting search queries about carbon capture, greenhouse gasses and net zero.
  • Shell spent $1.2m on greenwashing ads primarily targeting users searching for information on net zero companies and solar energy. Shell’s spending peaked in December 2020 when Dutch climate activists announced a legal case against it.
  • Saudi Aramco, the Saudi oil giant, spent $317,710 on greenwashing ads targeting users searching for information on renewable energy companies and carbon capture.
  • Chevron spent $112,854 on greenwashing ads.

Big Oil’s total spending on Google Search ads over the last two years was $23.7 million, half of which ($10.9 million) was spent on “greenwashing”. 

‘Big Oil is cynically and deliberately polluting our information ecosystem to muddy public understanding of how they have polluted our physical ecosystems’. Imran Ahmed, CEO, Center for Countering Digital Hate.

The result of this manipulation of search results is that a Google search on ‘eco-friendly companies’, for example, would result in an ad for one of the Big Oil companies appearing at the top of the Google rankings. 

Previous research has shown that 68% of web users were unable to distinguish between paid and organic search results and only 0.63% of Google searchers will click on links shown on the second page of results.

These greenwashing ads were viewed 59 million times over a 2-year period.

In addition to accepting millions of dollars from Big Oil for Greenwashing purposes, the report also reveals that Google is still profiting from ads promoting outright climate denial from organizations such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute despite Google’s promise ahead of COP 26 that it would no longer run ads containing “content that contradicts well established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change”.

“We are calling on Google to stop gaslighting the world, follow through on their promises to stop profiting from climate change denial immediately, and to break up with big oil once and for all”.  Imran Ahmed, CEO, Center for Countering Digital Hate.