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‘Greenwashing’: a new climate misinformation battleground

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Many companies have vowed to reach "net zero" by 2050, but they are advertising and lobbying for more drilling and burning of the fossil fuels that are heating the Earth's surface
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Fossil fuel firms are misleading the public about their moves to cut greenhouse gases and curb climate change — and social media are hosting ads that perpetuate this “greenwashing”, researchers say.

AFP Fact Check took an in-depth look at how this is happening. The full report, including lobbying and communications fact boxes on 10 top oil and gas companies, is at http://u.afp.com/wDuA.

– Talking the talk –

Many companies have vowed to reach the “net zero” level of greenhouse gas emissions needed to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius under the Paris climate accords, the threshold established by scientists for avoiding the worst impacts.

At the same time, research shows, they are advertising and lobbying for more drilling and burning of the fossil fuels that are heating the Earth’s surface.

Leaders and businesspeople agree that changing how we warm our homes and power industries is no simple task.

But critics say the gap between slogans and action undermines meaningful efforts to cut emissions.

In a study published by the open-access science journal PLOS, scientists analysed the gap between talk and deeds on climate and low-carbon energy by four big oil companies: BP, Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Their green strategies “are dominated by pledges rather than concrete actions,” concluded the study, under lead author Mei Li of Tohoku University in Japan.

“Until actions and investment behaviour are brought into alignment with discourse, accusations of greenwashing appear well-founded.”

A search on the Facebook pages of big oil and gas firms and the social platform’s Ad Library shows that companies are posting green slogans while also running ads urging customers to “fill up your tank” or win “a year’s worth of gasoline”.

Contacted by AFP, the companies detailed plans to develop lower-carbon energy sources and measures such as carbon capture and storage — a method currently not advanced enough to be very helpful, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

ExxonMobil and Chevron spokespeople insisted that due to energy demand, the scenarios foreseen by the Paris deal and the IEA mean fossil fuels will have to play a part in the transition.

–  Walking the walk –

Watchdogs also see greenwashing in environment-friendly but limited gestures by firms that campaigners say distract attention from their climate-harming operations.

Digital monitor Eco-Bot.net monitors cases where an online post “selectively discloses the company’s credentials or portrays symbolic actions to build a friendly brand image.”

It flagged ads and posts on protecting silkworms (Mexican cement firm Cemex), frogs (gas firm TransCanada), possums (Eletronuclear, subsidiary of Brazilian power firm Eletrobras), forests (various companies, including Spanish oil company Repsol) and one by US giant ExxonMobil on recycling fishing ropes in Patagonia. 

New York-based greenwashing researcher Genevieve Guenther told AFP the key is to measure pledges against two standards: the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) net-zero date of 2050 and the IEA’s clean 2021 energy transition roadmap.

The latter says that to meet the 2050 target there would have to be “no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects” from now on. Any company planning new investments while also trumpeting net zero targets, Guenther said, is guilty of greenwashing.

– Delaying tactics –

An analysis by London-based research group InfluenceMap showed the five biggest publicly traded oil and gas companies spent $1 billion over three years to push misleading climate messages on Facebook.

Such amounts are small compared to the billions in revenues of Big Tech and Big Oil — for the latter, the two biggest US companies swung into combined profits of over $38 billion in 2021.

But pushing messages via social media has an outsize impact, said Melissa Aronczyk, an associate communications professor at Rutger University who has co-authored several studies on the subject.

“It is very easy and inexpensive to produce ads and campaigns for social media that can have a massive effect,” she told AFP. 

Facebook says it monitors ads for misleading content just as it does with other forms of information on its platforms.

InfluenceMap analysed thousands of documents “to build up a very detailed picture of how major companies and industry groups are engaging on climate policy and how they are trying to influence debate,” said program manager Faye Holder.

“This greenwashing is essentially a tactic to delay government regulation. It also has the potential to mislead the public, by convincing them that action is already being taken on climate while Big Oil continues to lobby behind the scenes for new oil and gas development.”

In the United States, a Democrat-led committee has been hounding the big oil firms over their lobbying.

“Much of the lobbying has been indirectly done, cleverly, skilfully, cynically done by industry trade groups that have been formed by these companies,” Democratic congressman John Sarbanes told the committee on February 8.

“It is often very hard to disentangle the web of relationships and the sources of funding.”

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A look inside Coca-Cola’s digital transformation, led by digital skills training

In its first year, the company’s digital academy trained more than 500 people in digital skills.

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Digital skills and talent are in high demand these days — bolstered by McKinsey research that found one in every 16 workers will need to transition to new roles by 2030.

In July 2021, Coca-Cola set up a digital academy to upskill managers and frontline team leaders across operations. Using go-and-see visits, boot camps, and e-learning modules, more than 500 people were given digital skills training in the first year. Now, training is being rolled out to about 4,000 employees company-wide.

In the latest episode of the McKinsey Talks Operations podcast, Coca-Cola’s Iain McLaughlin (VP of commercial product supply) and Gigy Philip (transformation director) joined Daphne Luchtenberg, director of reach and engagement in McKinsey’s London office, and Roberto Migliorini, a partner also based in McKinsey’s London office, to discuss the company’s upskilling process as part of their digital transformation strategy.

Here are three highlights from the episode.

On addressing supply chain challenges through digital adoption

“One of the things that has been most helpful to us is that early in 2021, we built a digital twin of our manufacturing network to support business continuity planning, as well as network optimization. Previously, we had relied on experience, we had relied on know-how within the organization in order to do business continuity planning. But by digitizing it, we actually brought all of the data together into a single model, which has helped us enormously in reacting to situations during the pandemic.” – Iain McLaughlin

On avoiding ‘pilot purgatory’

“We did a lot of research and prework to understand the potential impact of Industry 4.0, and we did that as part of our overall planning for the transformation. So we were aware of the pitfalls of pilot purgatory. But pilots are still important, right? You have to understand if there’s value, where the value is, and how you can capture that value. Pilots have an important role to play, and we did one. There was a significant pilot at our largest facility in Ireland. But having done that, and having seen the fact that there was tremendous value to be captured, what we then did was take time out to plan the strategy. So we always started from a viewpoint that we were taking this across the network. Therefore, by the time we started executing the strategy, we already knew we were going to multiple sites. And that has really helped us to move at speed and scale. So, pilots are important, I’m not dismissing them. But pilots for the sake of pilots are not going to get you the transformation that you might be looking for.” – Iain McLaughlin

On their digital academy

Our digital academy is designed really to build foundational knowledge and skills on core digital, analytics, and agile topics so that our associates can be successful operating in a digital world. All of our 3,000-odd employees across CPS [commercial product supply] will be participating in the academy. In terms of the design mechanics, we grouped all the roles within the organization into six cohorts based on learning needs and used a very structured approach to develop customized learning journeys for each of the cohorts. Across the six learning journeys, we developed 25 unique modules, covering three major areas. The first area is around creating awareness and excitement. The second is around transformation skills, and the third is around digital and analytics skills. – Daphne Luchtenberg

To read an edited version of the conversation, or to listen to the full podcast episode, head to McKinsey’s website.

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US Senate passes bill to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing

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US President Joe Biden speaks virtually with CEOs about the CHIPS Act, a bill to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing
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The US Senate passed a bill on Wednesday to boost domestic production of semiconductors amid shortages of the microchips that power everything from smartphones to cars to weapons.

The legislation, which now goes back to the House of Representatives for final passage, provides $52 billion to increase domestic semiconductor production and more than $100 billion over five years for research and development.

The CHIPS Act was passed in the Senate by a rare bipartisan vote of 64 to 33 with 17 Republicans joining hands with Democrats.

President Joe Biden welcomed Senate passage of the legislation that he said will “accelerate the manufacturing of semiconductors in America, lowering prices on everything from cars to dishwashers.”

“It also will create jobs -– good-paying jobs right here in the United States,” Biden said in a statement.

“It will mean more resilient American supply chains, so we are never so reliant on foreign countries for the critical technologies that we need for American consumers and national security,” he said.

Global semiconductor supplies were severely disrupted by fallout from Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns, sparking shortages of the chips — many of which are made in Asia.

The shortages notably slowed production of new automobiles last year, causing prices to increase.

The version of the CHIPS Act passed Wednesday provides $39 billion to finance semiconductor manufacturing plants in the United States and another $13 billion for research.

Senate passage of the bill came a day after the South Korean group SK announced a huge investment in US semiconductor and other cutting edge industries.

The conglomerate said in a statement it plans to “increase its new investment in the United States by $22 billion in areas including semiconductors, green energy, and bioscience, creating tens of thousands of new high-tech, high-paying American jobs.”

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US regulators move to block Meta virtual reality app deal

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The Federal Trade Commission is accusing Meta of trying to buy its way to the top of the virtual reality fitness app market with the buy of Supernatural.
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US market regulators on Wednesday went to court to stop Meta from buying virtual reality fitness app maker Within, a potential blow to the tech giant’s metaverse ambitions.

In a complaint filed in federal court, the Federal Trade Commission argued that Facebook-parent Meta is trying to illegally expand its virtual reality empire with the buy of Within Unlimited, maker of fitness app “Supernatural.”

Meta has made it a focus to build its metaverse vision for the internet’s future, betting heavily on the interactive virtual world that the company believes will keep it relevant.

“Instead of competing on the merits, Meta is trying to buy its way to the top,” FTC competition bureau deputy director John Newman said in a release.

“This is an illegal acquisition, and we will pursue all appropriate relief.”

Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meta is already a leading player in the virtual reality market, and its chief Mark Zuckerberg has stressed that the metaverse is key to the company’s future.

The Silicon Valley titan years back bought virtual reality gear maker Oculus and studios devoted to apps for use in digital realms.

Meta purchases have included a popular “Beat Saber” game in which players slash at oncoming virtual blocks in time to music.

The FTC said that the suit seeks specifically to block Meta and Zuckerberg from getting their hands on Within Unlimited.

The Supernatural app made buy independent studio Within lets users work out in routines set to music by popular artists such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Coldplay in realistic, virtual locales such as the Galapagos Islands, the FTC said.

The complaint quoted Within’s as calling fitness apps “the killer use case for VR.”

“Meta is a potential entrant in the virtual reality dedicated fitness app market with the required resources and a reasonable probability of building its own virtual reality app to compete in the space,” the FTC said in the complaint.

“But instead of entering, it chose to try buying Supernatural.”

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