United Nations Secretary-General calls on agencies to stop working with fossil fuel clients

Clean Creatives South Africa welcomes UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ challenge to the advertising industry to abandon working with fossil fuel clients. He made this challenge yesterday (5 June) as the United Nations observes this year’s World Environment Day, which is themed ‘land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience.’

Speaking during a Special Address on Climate Action, Guterres told agencies to ‘stop taking on new fossil fuel clients from today, and set out plans to drop your existing ones.’ Guterres characterised the greenwashing done by agencies for fossil fuels as enabling destruction, adding: ‘Fossil fuels are not only poisoning our planet, they are toxic for your brands. Your sector is already full of creative minds who are already mobilising around this cause. They are gravitating towards companies that are fighting for our planet, not trashing it.’

Guiterres’ challenge piles on pressure for agencies to join the more than 1,000 advertising and which have signed the Clean Creatives pledge to decline future work with the fossil fuel industry. By adopting this position, they support the relentless work by civil society organisations to realise a fossil fuel-free South Africa, and a just transition to renewable sources of energy that spare human and environmental life. In 2023, a coalition of 23 such organisations echoed the call behind the pledge and signed a letter by Clean Creatives South Africa to stop the greenwashing which enables the fossil fuel industry to continue to thrive, leaving a trail of climate crimes.

Sylvester Chauke, Founder and Chief Architect at DNA Brand Architects said, ‘The UN’s stance is highly commendable, as the advertising and PR industry must acknowledge the significant environmental impact of fossil fuel clients. Thousands of agencies have already committed to this cause, and it is crucial for more to join. As a powerful industry of ideas, we have a responsibility to prioritise sustainability and positive impact over actions that harm our planet. It is time for us to make better, more responsible choices.’

Guterres also called on governments to ban fossil fuel advertising. Cities like Amsterdam and Edinburgh, and entire countries, like France, are increasingly banning fossil fuel advertising, and South Africa now also has a civil society pressure campaign working on instituting a local ban. 

Recently, the South African Fossil Ad Ban campaign lodged a complaint against TotalEnergies with the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB). ‘The advert we’re contesting claims that TotalEnergies is ‘committed to sustainable development and environmental protection.’ This is a false claim that clearly constitutes greenwashing’ -Thameena Dhansay, Fossil Ad Ban Campaigner.

Despite promises of a Paris Agreement-aligned transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, TotalEnergies is continuing to explore for new sources of oil and gas, including in an exploration block not far from the Western Cape coastline. In May, Clean Creatives awarded TotalEnergies an ‘F-List’ greenwashing award for its ongoing partnership with SANParks. 

IDIDTHAT wrote about the F-List, naming 41 South African agencies and PR companies using their talents for fossil fuel companies. Read that story.

Further abroad, Shell had a sustainability advertising campaign banned by the UK advertising regulator last year for being ‘likely to mislead’, while a recent Oil Change report found that all of the oil majors assessed – including companies which operate in South Africa like TotalEnergies, Shell and BP – are ‘lobbying against climate action, greenwashing, and otherwise manoeuvring to undermine the energy transition.’

South Africa, like the rest of the global community, cannot afford any more delays in the transition from fossil fuels whose emissions accelerate climate change and are the cause of premature deaths in fenceline communities.

About Clean Creatives South Africa:

Launched locally in 2022, Clean Creatives South Africa is the local chapter of Clean Creatives (cleancreatives.org) a global movement of advertisers, PR professionals, and their clients cutting ties with fossil fuels. The South African arm of Clean Creatives is a project of Fossil Free South Africa (fossilfreesa.org.za).

For more information or interviews, contact Clean Creatives SA Campaign Manager, Nozuko Noni Poni: noni@fossilfuelsa.org.za or 079 830 2280.

Contact Clean Creatives

SA Campaign Manager: Nozuko Noni Poni
+27 79 830 2280

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