Diana Marszalek 09 Nov 2021 // 10:09PM GMT
NEW YORK — Facing mounting pressure to drop fossil fuel clients, Edelman on Tuesday affirmed its commitment to sustainability, saying that the firm does “not accept client assignments that aim to deny climate change."
But the agency stopped short of breaking ties with big oil companies, most notably ExxonMobil — the issue at the center of a high-profile influencer campaign.
“As a firm, we believe that climate change is one of today’s most important global challenges, and addressing it will require unprecedented collaboration across all institutions and sectors. To that end, we are focused on helping our clients across all industries advance their own sustainability commitments,” an Edelman spokesperson said.
“We believe it is important for us to have a seat at the table with our clients and that we have an obligation to do more — not less — work related to climate change. We do not accept client assignments that aim to deny climate change.”
Edelman's statement came a day after more than 100 celebrities and influencers — including such high-profile names as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer — called on Edelman to drop fossil fuel clients, including ExxonMobil.
"Edelman is the world’s largest PR firm. They often invite people like us to join sustainability campaigns on behalf of their clients,” Clean Creatives, an ad and PR industry advocacy organization, said in an open letter signed by 100-plus creatives, experts and climate activists. “However, even as they work with brands that are aligned with our values, they also work extensively with companies like ExxonMobil, the world’s largest public oil company, along with Shell, and organizations that deny climate change and promote the agenda of the world’s worst polluters.”
“In fact, Edelman does more work for fossil fuel interests than any PR agency on earth. Advertising for fossil fuel companies obstructs urgently needed government action on climate change and impedes climate justice solutions. ‘Greenwashing’ is too mild a term: Edelman is in fact actively contributing to fossil-fuel emissions through its marketing activities,” the letter said.
In the statement, Clean Creatives said working with fossil fuel clients makes Edelman’s commitment to the goal of the Paris Agreement “fraudulent,” as representing ExxonMobil’s business model “means enabling untold human suffering and ecosystem destruction.”
“Several private conversations with Edelman to ask them to drop these clients have led nowhere. Given the stakes, we are now going public with our demand to Edelman: drop ExxonMobil and all other fossil-fuel clients. Ending advertising and PR for fossil-fuel companies is a crucial step toward climate justice,” it said.
The campaign, whose signatories also include Naomi Klein, Mona Chalabi, Ilana Glazer, Meena Harris, Philippe Cousteau, Baratunde Thurston and David Cross — among numerous activists, creatives and influencers — is the latest of several Edelman-focused actions by Clean Creatives, which launched in 2020 to address the ad and PR industry’s work with fossil fuels.
It follows increasing scrutiny of Edelman's work for ExxonMobil in particular, after the world's largest PR firm pledged to stop working with coal producers and climate change deniers in 2015. That decision followed the termination of Edelman's lucrative relationship with the American Petroleum Institute.
Last month, however, The Guardian included Richard Edelman among its list of America’s top “climate villains,” 12 powerful individuals that the newspaper claims bear responsibility for climate change by enabling the industries that are part of the cause.
In September, Gizmodo reported that Edelman had been working on an Exxon ad campaign to oppose climate regulations. Richard Edelman has strongly denied that the firm's work for the company opposes climate legislation, instead focusing on job creation, economic opportunity and land access.
In March, Buzzfeed News reported that tax filings obtained by the news outlet show that in 2019 Edelman accepted more than $4 million from the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a major US oil trade organization known for its aggressive opposition to climate solutions.
Additional reporting by Arun Sudhaman