Sustainability Blog

Communications Breakdown for Big Corporations

By Simon Johns - Jul 02, 2021

This week was challenging for media relations teams at two of the world’s largest corporations, ExxonMobil and VW. A month after investors ousted two ExxonMobil board members for inaction on climate change and clean energy, Keith McCoy, a senior ExxonMobil lobbyist was caught on camera claiming to have used Exxon’s influence to persuade lawmakers to water down environmental legislation. Exxon quickly distanced itself from McCoy in a press statement, but the damage was done. Critics say it demonstrates how the company’s public statements about climate change contradict what is said and done behind the scenes.

Although unconnected, salt was rubbed into the wound when the next day Shell said it was withdrawing from an oil and gas joint venture with Exxon in California. Shell, like other European oil companies, is divesting from carbon-intensive areas of its business and investing in renewable energy assets, decarbonizing and embracing EV infrastructure.

On Monday, VW sent out a message reaffirming its carbon reduction target and announcing ID.4 assembly will be localized in the U.S. The following day, the spectre of Dieselgate loomed once more in the news cycle, when courts in Ohio gave the thumbs up for the state’s attorney to proceed with a lawsuit against the carmaker – undoing the messaging work from the day before. Ohio sued the German carmaker in 2016 for “deceptive recalls and updates of diesel vehicles that were sold or leased in the state,” according to Reuters. This came on the back of news that prosecutors in Berlin brought charges against ex-VW head Martin Winterkorn for giving false testimony to the German parliament about his knowledge of the scandal at the time.

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