Energy News Today

Environmental activists target top PR firms

This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: Environmental activists target top PR firms

Marc Filippino
Good morning from the Financial Times. Today is Thursday, January 13th, and this is your FT News Briefing.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

UK prime minister Boris Johnson faces calls to resign. The commodities boom now includes nickel. And the plant-based foodmaker Beyond Meat is on short sellers menu. Plus, climate activists have started to target the world’s biggest PR firms.

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson
What the activists think these firms are doing is greenwashing the images of those rather brown, dirty firms.

Marc Filippino
We’ll discuss the latest tactic. I’m Marc Filippino, and here’s the news you need to start your day.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Boris Johnson just had his toughest day since becoming prime minister. He’s been under attack for attending a Downing Street party in 2020, despite lockdown rules then. And yesterday he faced calls to resign. He tried to buy some time with an apology.

Boris Johnson
I know the rage with me and with the government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself, the rules are not being properly followed.

Marc Filippino
The FT’s George Parker talks about the murky future for the UK prime minister.

George Parker
Boris Johnson has apologised, but he’s set up an independent inquiry into these parties, led by a senior civil servant called Sue Gray. Sue Gray will report back probably towards the end of next week, and she’s going to basically put out all the facts into the public domain. And at that point, I guess politicians, Tory MPs in particular, will have to take a view on whether Boris Johnson’s breach of these rules was so egregious that it merits his resignation. I suspect what will happen is that Sue Gray will set out the facts and make some quite sweeping criticisms of the culture in Number 10 Downing Street, including the culture of people drinking while at work. But it won’t necessarily be sort of a death knell politically for Boris Johnson, and my expectation is that he’ll clear out some of the Number 10 staff who are responsible for some of these parties, in other words, blaming his officials and stagger on.

Marc Filippino
So just out of curiosity, George, is there concern that Johnson admitting that he broke Covid rules will embolden people to say, you know, if the prime minister isn’t going to follow Covid protocols, why should I?

George Parker
Yeah, I think that’s the real problem. I think the only, the good thing about that from the government’s point of view is that in England, we’re getting towards the end, we hope, of the Omicron wave. It is quite likely, I think, that when the current restrictions legally expire on the 26th of January, that they won’t be renewed. So that will mark a phase when we start to move into the new era of living with Covid rather than relying on restrictions. But I think the more damaging thing for Boris Johnson is that people can very well remember what they were doing in 2020, when the first lockdowns were in place, when we’ve had some very heart-rending stories from people, from MPs and their constituents who were sticking rigidly to the rules, who are seeing loved ones dying in hospitals through a glass pane because they weren’t allowed to be in the same room as them. People unable to attend weddings or funerals, I mean, some really heart-wrenching stories. And the idea that Boris Johnson was basically having drinks parties with, you know, in this case, 30 or 40 staff who turned up at the event is quite sickening for quite a few people.

Marc Filippino
George Parker is the FT’s political editor.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Commodities are booming right now. Nickel rose to a 10-year high of nearly $23,000 a tonne. Demand for the metal has shot up as stockpiles have dwindled and a big part of that is that car producers are ramping up their production of electric vehicles. Nickel is used in the most powerful EV batteries, and demand for EVs is rising. In the UK this past December, electric vehicles made up a quarter of new car sales. Copper also rose yesterday. The world’s most important industrial metal traded above $10,000 a tonne for the first time since October. The rise was sparked by China saying it’ll support its economy with more stimulus. Meanwhile, oil hit 85 bucks a barrel.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Climate change activists have a new strategy. Now, they’re not only targeting companies that pollute, they’re also targeting the people who craft their eco-friendly messages.

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson
They’ve gone after Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm. They’ve gone after WPP, the giant London-based ad holding company and communications group.

Marc Filippino
That’s our US business editor, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson.

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson
And they’ve gone after Dentsu, which is Japan’s largest advertising company. And these are the companies which represent the world’s largest fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and the rest. And what the activists think these firms are doing is greenwashing the images of those rather brown, dirty firms by emphasising the cleaner, more renewable, more sustainable, happy, shiny stuff that they do while minimising the pollution they continue to create through their traditional fossil fuel activities.

Marc Filippino
So Edge, I want to play you an advertisement that WPP produced for ExxonMobil to show what activists are unhappy about.

[ADVERTISEMENT PLAYS]
ExxonMobil is growing algae for biofuels that could one day power planes and cut their greenhouse gas emissions in half. Algae, its potential just keeps growing.

Marc Filippino
Now that sounds really wholesome. What would activists say is the problem here?

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson
It does sound wholesome, and I think there’s no question that all of these traditional energy companies are investing a lot of untraditional stuff which would cut greenhouse gas emissions if it happened at scale. The problem is, in the eyes of activists, that the PR firms and the ad agencies are putting out this kind of ad to make that investment look larger than it is and to implant in the public imagination the idea that nothing much needs to change because these companies are changing by themselves and becoming more sustainable, becoming more responsible, where, in fact, at the same time, they are spending vastly more money on their traditional high-emitting activities.

Marc Filippino
So what tactics are activists using in this campaign against the ad industry?

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson
So these are people who’ve worked in the climate movement for many years, many of them, and they’ve grown up protesting outside oil companies headquarters and outside Congress. And they’ve realised how slow it is to get change that way. But what they’re doing by targeting the PR and advertising industries is using those industry’s tactics against them. They’re using social media campaigns, they’re using open letters that they’re sending to the press to call out the companies that are advising the oil and gas industry and try and name and shame those companies. And their thesis is if you can persuade industries which are staffed by pretty young, creative, idealistic types who’ve grown up fairly attuned to the messages of the climate movement, then you may manage to change those oil and gas companies faster by starving of them, of the expertise they need to put out the next happy, shiny, clean and green ad.

Marc Filippino
What do PR companies say in response? How do they defend their work?

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson
A company like Edelman, which put out a new set of principles in response to this pressure from activists in recent days, says we have to be in the room with this kind of client because they’re where the emissions are. We need to be working with companies like this that are dirty now, but are trying to get cleaner and we can help them get cleaner. We can help them tell the story of this transition to a cleaner, greener version of what they’re going to be doing over the next 50 years. That does not wash with activists, whose response is typically, well, you’ve been in the room for a long time and not enough has changed. So that is where the tension is and that’s what’s driving this clash now.

Marc Filippino
Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson is the FT’s US business editor. Thanks, Edge.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Before we go, Beyond Meat has become a juicy menu item for short sellers. Amid weaker sales and growing scepticism about products for plant-based meat, investors have begun betting against the company, so they make money when the stock goes down. The trouble for Beyond Meat began last fall when the company issued a revenue warning, then reported lower than expected earnings. Beyond Meat’s gotten scorched ever since. As of Monday, bearish bets accounted for 42 per cent of Beyond Meat’s freely traded shares. It’s now one of the most shorted companies on the US stock market.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

You can read more on all of these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT News Briefing. Make sure you check back tomorrow for the latest business news.

This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: typo@ft.com. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.

Read More: Environmental activists target top PR firms

2022-01-13 00:12:06

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy
%d bloggers like this: