Trouble in ESG land
Ecojustice, a Canadian ENGO (environmental non-government organization), has gone to war against the biggest of the Canadian Big Five Banks and perennial TSX top-ten market cap listee, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). The casus belli? RBC greenwashes its corporate reports, says Ecojustice, an ENGO whose website says “[i]nvesting in an energy grid from renewable sources will make our lives more affordable and improve our living standards,” a very questionable statement.
Ecojustice in April 2022 complained to the Competition Bureau of Canada about RBC’s alleged deceptive marketing practices, and the Bureau in September 2022 opened an investigation into the matter.
This is how Ecojustice framed its complaint:
Corporations that promote false solutions divert attention and resources away from genuine initiatives needed to facilitate a just and successful transition to a sustainable economy. —see Ecojustice complaint to Competition Bureau about RBC
Ironically, the complainants’ charges apply pretty much exactly word for word to the complainants themselves. By promoting the false “solution” of renewable energy, they themselves are helping divert attention and resources away from the actual solution.
So it’s not just corporations that greenwash. In fact, it could be argued that corporations are not the most harmful purveyors of this kind of misinformation.
But it’s RBC who’s been pulled over. What do they say about their sustainability policy and practices? In their Net Zero Report published at about the time the Competition Bureau brought its action, RBC list oil and gas as among the important client segments inhabiting their loan book. On p. 7, they list the 2030 emissions reductions targets—35 percent reduction for Scope 1 and 2 (direct and “indirect”) emissions, and at least 11 percent reduction in “Scope 3″—i.e., end use—emissions. Those who are familiar with this data will know these are very ambitious (we would say impossible) targets. On p. 12 RBC say how their oil and gas clients will achieve this astonishing feat: with carbon capture and utilization and “blue hydrogen.”
Is that greenwash? Clearly yes, and disingenuous greenwash to boot. Nobody believes the carbon capture fairy tale, and RBC’s oil sands clients’ heavy use of “blue hydrogen” is precisely why their liquid product comes with such heavy upstream emissions. And claiming you can arrange things so that a kilowatt-hour of gasoline energy will come with less than 245 grams of CO2 when reacted with air on Planet Earth is selling snake oil.
It is inadvisable to publish these kinds of statements. The dark red bars are the “floor” that Mother Nature establishes for CO<sub>2</sub> emissions from combusting gasoline. You can’t do an end run around that.
Big Green’s romance with Big Gas
So RBC is definitely greenwashing. But there’s another important dimension to this affair. It is well known, and it has been extensively reported, that the Sierra Club, the ENGO from which Ecojustice spun off, for many years was funded by the natural gas industry, nuclear’s main competitor in the electric power markets. While Sierra claims that the formal financial relationship ended, the de facto relationship very much continues today, in the form of advocacy aiming to bring about a future grid that relies nearly entirely on natural gas for the inertia that enables the grid to ride through frequency disturbances.
In spite of the reports of Sierra’s financial relationship with the gas industry, and in spite of ENGO advocacy that ultimately benefits the very same industry at the expense of that industry’s only viable zero-emitting competitor, most people are not aware that Sierra and most other ENGOs have this relationship. It’s inside-baseball stuff, known to those who follow these things. This lack of general awareness allows Sierra, in fact all mainstream ENGOs including Ecojustice, to pose as altruistic defenders of the environment, while pursuing a hidden corporate agenda on behalf of a major fossil fuel industry.
There is nothing wrong with pursuing a corporate agenda. But it is underhanded and dishonest to pretend you are above all that when in fact you’re right there in it.
Ecojustice pursues exactly the same advocacy as its forerunner Sierra: they demand that fossil fueled power generation be replaced with renewable generation, which on a non-nuclear grid literally requires fossil fuels simply to function.
In the next post we’ll look at RBC’s side of the issue. Stay tuned.