CIPR issues statement on 'Big Oil v the World'


A statement from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). 

‘Big Oil vs the World’ is a three-part BBC film out this month. It examines decades of delay in effective measures to tackle climate change, prompted by what it calls ‘an audacious PR plot’. The films show how public relations (PR) tactics were used in the United States to spread doubts about risks to the environment and lobby against new regulations to curb emissions. The film is available to viewers in the UK on iplayer and is an eloquent reminder of the possible abuses of PR. We deplore the misuse of PR shown. 

The film shows the terrible costs to society when strategic PR campaigns are conceived and delivered without ethical foundations. The CIPR’s code of conduct requires our members to act with the highest standards of integrity and to deal honestly and fairly with the public. Trying to downplay the risks of climate change, today, unquestionably fails this requirement. Indeed the BBC also reports that a growing number of agencies are now refusing to work for fossil fuel clients at all. 

As the scientific consensus on climate change has firmed up, some unethical corporate communications work has shifted lately from denial and doubt to a pretence of making a contribution to the solution. This does not represent the best efforts of many in the PR industry. Just as much as the historic denial of the problem, this kind of dishonesty is a breach of our code. Not only is it unethical, but it is increasingly ineffective - a recent report shows that consumers are increasingly wise to greenwashing and punish organisations that indulge in it. 

The BBC film also highlights the gap that can exist between what organisations know internally and what they say externally.  Communications must always be honest, transparent and consistent with what an organisation knows to be true. A good way to ensure this is to have a PR professional advising a Board rather than just taking a brief from them. Misdirecting those who advocate on your behalf is bad business practice. 

The CIPR is committed to playing its part in the efforts to tackle climate change. We have signed the COP26 commitment to achieve net zero by 2030 and this year we have adopted ESI Monitor as the standard for measuring our progress towards that goal. We will publish a statement on our progress each year as part of our annual report. We also established a new ESG Panel earlier this year and are offering a new specialist Diploma in Sustainability Communications from September this year.  

We believe that Big Oil vs the World’ should be watched attentively for everything that organisations and the PR techniques they deploy must not be in today’s world. We know that the people and practices that it outlines do not represent the values and qualities of the CIPR and our members. Whatever role the misuse of PR tactics had in holding back climate action, we believe that CIPR members can make a positive contribution to addressing the climate crisis going forward.  


About the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). 

Founded in 1948, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is the world's only Royal Chartered professional body for public relations practitioners in the UK and overseas with nearly 10,000 members.

The CIPR advances professionalism in public relations by making its members accountable to their employers and the public through a code of conduct and searchable public register, setting standards through training, qualifications, awards and the production of best practice and skills guidance, facilitating Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and awarding Chartered Public Relations Practitioner status (Chart.PR).