Making the Future – Shell's Greenwash Festival Exposed

A large white oil storage tank with the yellow and red Shell logo and a thick band of rainbow stripes around it
Shell's Pernis refinery in the Netherlands. Credit: Steven Lek, CC BY-SA 4.0

Make the Future – Shell’s festival of greenwash – kicks off this weekend. Over the next few days you can ‘close the gender gap in technology’, ‘make London buses run on coffee’, or ‘make gas cool’. You can even pretend that everything is totally fine, and Shell and Big Oil have a major role in the world’s energy future, while listening to Pixie Lott and other slick pop stars. You may even bump into London’s mayor while you’re there.

Shell’s Olympic Park event has been heavily advertised around the capital for several weeks, emphasising the company’s interest in green tech. The festival is part of an international PR push under the Make the Future banner, aimed at convincing young people that the oil industry is a desirable employer. A 2016 report by McKinsey showed that millennials are shunning the oil industry more than any other sector, as they look for careers that make a positive contribution to society. The report provoked a spasm of PR and a desperate attempt to win over millennials.

But young people don’t seem to be buying it, and Make the Future may be in danger of backfiring badly for Shell & Co.

Campaigners point out that while this weekend’s festival is all about green tech, that doesn’t reflect accurately the business model of these companies.

Although Shell recently announced they would increase their investment in clean tech, it still amounts to only a small fraction of their overall investment. In November last year, Shell bowed to shareholder pressure and increased investment in their new energy division from $1 billion a year to $1-2 billion, less than 6 percent of their $25-30 billion total annual investment. To put this in further context, Shell plans to invest  $5 -$6 billion a year in deepwater drilling, and $2-3 billion a year for shale oil and gas.

Campaigners are gearing up to highlight Shell’s greenwash at the event. Alethea Warrington from Fossil Free London said:

This whole Make the Future campaign is sickeningly cynical and transparent. Shell’s investment in clean tech is tiny compared to their work extracting and burning fossil fuels, including deepwater drilling. When we heard about the event happening in the Olympic Park we were furious at Shell’s blatant hypocrisy, but we figured the best way to react against it was with a laugh, which is why we decided to take on Shell by playing dodgeball. It’ll be a fun day out in the park, and let Shell know we’re not buying their greenwash.”

Camilla Zerr from Divest Hackney said:

Shell is playing games with our planet and we’ve had enough. Shell aren’t just working to burn a load of fossil fuels that we know have to stay in the ground – that, in itself, is bad enough – but they are searching for whole new sources of fossil fuels. And they’re doing that in some of the most dangerous and ecologically delicate places on Earth. We, the local people in East London, aren’t taking their greenwash. We’re ready to divest from fossil fuels, invest in a just transition to renewables, and build climate justice.”

As DeSmog’s Graham Readfearn has previously pointed out:

If you watch the pop videos, or hang around Shell’s YouTube channel, or see much of their marketing material, or visit their very flashy tumblr site, you’ll see very little of what Shell spends most of its time and money actually doing – drilling for lots and lots of oil and gas.”

He continued:

So what is Shell’s actual contribution to the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels and releasing methane that is helping drive dangerous climate change?

Shell’s contribution in 2017 was 664 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (for context, looking at figures gathered by the World Resources Institute, there are only 11 countries in the world with a footprint bigger than that). In 2011, Shell’s footprint was 570 million tonnes.”

That’s the kind of future Shell is really making.

But Shell isn’t greenwashing alone. Emails between Shell and the London Mayor’s office obtained by campaigners Culture Unstained through a freedom of information request, and seen by DeSmog UK, show how eager the city’s representatives are to help Shell greenwash its image.

Shell invited Sadiq Khan to speak at a conference running alongside the Make The Future event, with the opportunity for him to join the extravaganza afterwards.

The Mayor’s office replied that they are keen, but think they can only persuade the mayor to go if there is an announcement related to Shell’s supposed good work in London. The official said in an email:

I said i’d try to get the mayor to this and particularly if there’s potentially something to shout about”.

After some back and forth talking about hydrogen fuelling stations and EV charging points, it becomes clear Shell has no major announcement to make that the Mayor can piggy-back on. So Shell’s representatives start to pitch its emphasis on “females” in the industry at this year’s event.

It might be useful to know that our campaign around Shell Eco-marathon is focused on females in engineering this year”, they said. “Might be worth adding to our reasons to attend”, the Shell representative notes.

That’s the best future Shell could find to pitch – some EV charging points and a few more “females” in engineering. And the Mayor’s office is depressingly happy to play along.

Related Posts


This is a guest post by environmental communication professor and Louisiana native Ned Randolph. I grew up in the shadow of the Mississippi River, whose mythology pressed upon my imagination.&n...

The Together Declaration spurred a wave of “disinformation” around anti-pollution schemes, new report finds.

The Together Declaration spurred a wave of “disinformation” around anti-pollution schemes, new report finds.

The company’s carbon footprint is equivalent to over 16 coal fired power stations each year.

The company’s carbon footprint is equivalent to over 16 coal fired power stations each year.

Advocates had hoped Susan Avery’s nomination would be a turning-point moment for the company’s climate approach. It wasn’t.

Advocates had hoped Susan Avery’s nomination would be a turning-point moment for the company’s climate approach. It wasn’t.