The advertising giant Wavemaker and its parent company WPP often brag about their commitment to sustainability and racial justice, but for nearly 20 years Wavemaker has made millions greenwashing one of the planet's worst corporate culprits: Chevron.
Today, climate and racial justice groups joined with Clean Creatives, our campaign pressuring PR and Ad agencies to quit working with the fossil fuel industry, to release a fact sheet about the dirty partnership between Wavemaker and Chevron.
We also worked with the Years Project to produce a video that parodies one of Wavemaker's commercials for Chevron, keeping the stock imagery of sunrises and people climbing mountains, but replacing the voiceover with the truth about Chevron's impacts on the climate and communities.
"Wavemaker likes to say that it 'positively provokes growth,' but right now it's just growing Chevron's pollution," said my colleague Duncan Meisel, Campaign Director for Clean Creatives. "The advertisements that Wavemaker is producing and placing for Chevron are the worst kind of climate misinformation. They're intentionally designed to mislead the public by greenwashing Chevron's image and covering up the truth about their pollution."
Our release comes just days after a spill at Chevron's refinery in Richmond, California that dumped close to 600 gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay.
The fact sheet shows how for decades Wavemaker has produced advertisements that present Chevron as "the human energy company," a model corporate citizen that cares deeply about "the environment" and "women and minority owned businesses."
"The talented creatives at Wavemaker deserve to work on accounts that help fight climate change, not make it worse. They should get to use their skills to help lift up Indigenous peoples and communities of color, not cover up how corporations like Chevron are harming them."
The reality is much darker. Chevron still refuses to take accountability for the 16 billion gallons of toxic waste they dumped in the Ecuadorian Amazon, home to over 30,000 Indigenous and rural Ecuadorians. As part of their massive legal and PR campaign to escape responsibility in Ecuador, Chevron abused the U.S. court system by waging a retaliatory SLAPP lawsuit against the Ecuadorian victims and their lawyers. Their attacks on free speech and legal bullying drew condemnation from many of the largest environmental and human rights organizations in the world.
"For over twenty years Amazon Watch has witnessed firsthand Chevron's environmental destruction and racism, been the targets of its baseless attacks, exposed its corrupt and harmful acts alongside communities affected by its operations on five continents and even worked with shareholder advocates to pressure it to clean up its act," Paul Paz y Miño, Associate Director, Amazon Watch told me. "Not only did it set the terrible precedent of deliberate toxic dumping and destruction in the Amazon rainforest, but Chevron has never shown even an ounce of remorse or good faith in any of its negotiations or in the face of communities virtually destroyed by its acts. On the contrary, it has created a brand for itself as the most ruthless corporate bully on the planet. There is no better example of an oil company bent on the destruction of people and planet for profit."
In the United States, Chevron continues to pollute communities like Richmond, California, where 80% of the population is people of color and children are now hospitalized for asthma at twice the rate of surrounding areas.
"Working with Asian immigrant and refugee communities who live at the fenceline of the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, we've seen firsthand how Chevron not only pollutes Richmond's air but also our politics," wrote Megan Zapanta, Richmond Organizing Director for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network in an email. "Through mailers, billboards, and even a Chevron-owned local news site, Chevron tries to paint itself as a good employer and a necessary pillar of the community. We know better. The Chevron refinery visibly spews pollutants, while continually going out of their way to avoid paying their fair share of taxes and hiring very few local residents. Richmond residents are fighting for a Just Transition away from big corporate polluters towards a clean and locally governed economy. We're done with Chevron's lies."
Along with its track record of polluting communities of color, Chevron has a nasty history of funding racism in the US. According to a report by Global Witness, Chevron gives over four times more campaign funding to US politicians who fail to uphold racial justice and civil rights legislation. In 2019 and 2020, Chevron's political action committee gave over $500,000 to U.S. Congressmembers with failing civil rights grades, as scored by the NAACP. Chevron is also a top donor to police foundations, which often oppose civil rights reforms, in cities like New Orleans and Houston.
"Our message today is simple: Wavemaker, stop working with fossil fuels."
Chevron is also one of the world's biggest polluters. Since 1965, Chevron has contributed more greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere than any other investor-owned corporation in the world. They've also spent millions of dollars lobbying against climate action and supporting climate-denying politicians, including many that supported this January's insurrection at the US Capitol.
I'm not a lawyer, but it seems clear that Wavemaker's ads for Chevron violate the FTC's Truth In Advertising requirements by intentionally misleading consumers about Chevron's commitment to climate action and investments in renewable energy, while leaving out relevant information about Chevron's role in driving the climate crisis.
Wavemaker's 2020 ad "Butterfly," for example, presented Chevron's commitment to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as an environmental solution. According to the New York Times, however, Chevron is only spending "pocket change" on CCS as it "doubles down" on oil and gas production. Even worse, CCS is a false solution that has proven to be unworkable at any meaningful scale. Case in point: Chevron's largest CCS project at the Gorgon LNG plant in Australia, has been "a disaster from the beginning" and is now just venting CO2 into the atmosphere.
Wavemaker's placement of the Chevron advertisements clearly shows that the ads were created as political propaganda. Their 2020 ads "Butterfly" and "Value Everyone," for instance, were run on This Week with George Stephanopolous, one of the "Sunday Shows" that is designed to shape political opinion in Washington, D.C.
These ads don't say anything about the superiority of Chevron gasoline, but simply repeat false claims about Chevron's commitment to renewable energy and climate solutions. Their real purpose is convincing the public and politicians that Chevron is already acting on climate, so there's no need to regulate them or hold them accountable. In response to our campaign, Wavemaker's parent company WPP told Reuters that it wouldn't 'undertake work which is intended or designed to mislead.' Wavemaker's work for Chevron clearly violates that pledge.
Clean Creatives is calling on Wavemaker to drop Chevron and pledge to stop working with fossil fuel companies to spread climate misinformation. We'll also be forwarding the fact sheet to Wavemaker's other clients, a number of whom, like Ikea, say they are committed to climate action and may be deeply concerned about Wavemaker's greenwashing on behalf of Chevron. We're also running targeted advertisements to Wavemaker employees on LinkedIn to make sure they are aware of the greenwashing their company is engaged in.
The talented creatives at Wavemaker deserve to work on accounts that help fight climate change, not make it worse. They should get to use their skills to help lift up Indigenous peoples and communities of color, not cover up how corporations like Chevron are harming them.
Our message today is simple: Wavemaker, stop working with fossil fuels. Become a Clean Creative today.