Greenpeace Canada’s new investigation team has been researching a coalition of big oil companies known as The Pathways Alliance. The Pathways Alliance is a coalition formed in 2021 by the six largest oil sands producers: Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, ConocoPhillips Canada, Imperial, MEG Energy, and Suncor Energy.

The investigation team, as a result of their findings, has gone on to file a complaint to the Competition Bureau of Canada against Pathways Alliance for greenwashing.

Priyanka Vittal, in-house legal counsel at Greenpeace Canada and member of the investigation team, shares how the team undertook this task and why it is important that they do so right now.

Olu: Why did the investigation team decide to take on the Pathways Alliance?

Priyanka: The Pathways Alliance has been increasing their public profile through their “Let’s clear the air” advertising campaign, which paints the coalition as climate leaders. They’ve invested $325,025 from October 2022 to January 2023 in ads on Meta (Facebook and Instagram) and paid for advertisements during international high-profile events such as ads during the FIFA World Cup, the Australian Open, and the 2023 Super Bowl. The ad campaign has also been promoted in large newspapers, television slots, a billboard, a podcast, and their website. 

The team saw the Pathways Alliance’s ads and we knew there was a problem with their claims, so we started digging. 

Olu: What are some findings your research has shown about the Pathways Alliance?

Priyanka: These companies operate about 95% of Canada’s oil sands production and are responsible for roughly 2.7 million barrels per day of oil production – about 63 percent of Canada’s total.

They claim to be working towards reaching “net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050”. They also say they plan to help Canada  “achieve its climate change goals”.

Olu: Oh wow. These seem like pretty lofty goals. Is the Alliance working towards this?

Priyanka: We don’t think the Pathways Alliance’s actions match their claims. In fact, the Pathways Alliance’s members continue to expand fossil fuel production and their net-zero plan doesn’t consider all their emissions — and it still doesn’t add up to zero. According to the authoritative criteria set out by the United Nations emissions from the use of the product (called scope 3 emissions) must be counted in the total emissions but Pathways leaves this out and it’s more than 80% of their members’ emissions.

Olu: Why do you think it is important to file a complaint against the Alliance right now?

Priyanka: The Pathways Alliance is using the misleading “Let’s clear the air” advertising campaign to paint themselves as acting on climate change in a bigger way than they actually are and giving the impression that fossil fuels from the oil sands are a sustainable choice for consumers. This is dangerous because it could potentially slow our urgent need to transition to green and renewable energies, as well as increase the production of oil and gas.

Olu: What would be the ideal result?

Priyanka: We would like for the Competition Bureau to investigate and confirm that this advertising is false and misleading. We have requested that they should remove all of that advertising, issue a public retraction and pay a fine. 

Consumers shouldn’t be targeted by corporate greenwashing. Canadians deserve to have accurate information about the impact of fossil fuels and what the industry is really doing..

You can read the full complaint here.

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