Big Oil's PR machine takes a hit over celeb-backed greenwash

Sandra Bullock withdraws support for Gulf petition over allegations of corporate shenanigans

Paul Bignell
Sunday 01 August 2010 00:00

When Sandra Bullock, John Goodman and Lenny Kravitz were asked to appear in a video urging viewers to sign a petition to help highlight the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, they could be forgiven for believing they were on the side of the angels.

But, it turned out, the organisation behind the "Be the One" video was not just any cuddly-sounding environmental group, it was one that was funded by major oil companies. Now the campaign's biggest star has withdrawn her endorsement, as accusations from environmental groups of greenwashing and conflicts of interest are levelled at those involved in the video's production.

Last month, Bullock, in a public service announcement (PSA) video along with other well-known stars such as Blake Lively, appealed to viewers to sign a petition to demand the US government devise and fully fund a plan to restore the Gulf of Mexico, after the disastrous BP Deepwater Horizon leak in April. More than 120,000 people have signed the petition thus far.

But now, in an abrupt turnaround, the 46-year-old actress has said she wants no part in the project because of a report that says the organisation involved with the petition has the backing of oil companies, among other corporations.

The report, which appeared on the US environmental website last Thursday, said the video's website, was produced by a non-partisan alliance of Louisiana women called Women of the Storm. The group was set up in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita to help those affected by the devastation the storms wrought along the Gulf coastline. But the group is linked to America's Wetland Foundation (AWF), which lists Shell, BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil as their sponsors, among other corporations including Coca-Cola and British Gas.

AWF was founded in 2002 to raise awareness of the loss of Louisiana's coastal wetlands. The organisation says it brought the oil industry to the table – along with transporta-tion, fisheries and wildlife groups – because it was one of the Gulf's biggest users.

The video, which lasts under two minutes, with a recurring catchline of "Be the One", also suggests the offshore oil industry should continue drilling for the "wholesale sustainability" of the region and suggests that the government and taxpayer foot the bill for the oil spill.

Bullock's agent said this weekend that at no time was the actress "made aware that any organisation or oil company had influence over Women of the Storm or its message. We have immediately asked for her participation in the PSA to be removed until the facts can be determined".

Greenpeace said it has seen many organisations pose as fronts for bigger organisations over the years, often disappearing as quickly as they emerge. "As more people become aware of the risks imposed by oil companies on local communities and the planet, the industry will invent ever more creative and deceitful front groups and PR efforts to greenwash their image, hide the harm and shift the financial burden to governments and taxpayers," said Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace USA. "This is a classic PR diversion tactic. Policymakers and the public, and even celebrities, need to be more vigilant to ensure they aren't being duped by Big Oil."

America's Wetland Foundation said in a statement this weekend that it has never advocated that taxpayers foot the bill for the spill. "In the case of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, AWF has been clear in its position: a portion of the damages to be paid by BP must go to coastal restoration of disappearing wetlands and barrier islands. The America's Wetland Foundation had no role in the production of the Sandra Bullock PSAs. They were produced solely by the Women of the Storm."

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