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Blog Post | November 21, 2023

What In The Greenwashing? TIME100 Climate Is Full Of Climate Villains  

Climate and Environment
What In The Greenwashing? TIME100 Climate Is Full Of Climate Villains  

TIME released its inaugural TIME100 Climate list last week, which included an eclectic list of business leaders, politicians, artists, and other “leaders” that TIME reporters and editors (and Deloitte, their sponsor) sought to elevate and celebrate for “making significant progress in fighting climate change by creating business value.” 

The goal is in some ways a noble one, and some of TIME’s selections are too. But unfortunately, TIME undermined the legitimacy of its venture by including a slate of climate crooks and the corporate criminals they represent under the umbrella of climate leaders. TIME’s full-throated attempt to sell representatives from major corporate polluters not just as climate champions but as somehow co-equal climate champions with Indigenous climate activists like Nemonte Nenquimo, amounts to little more than an elaborate greenwashing scheme laundered through its own PR machine. 

Martin Lundstedt, President and CEO of the Volvo Group

Among its list of “Titans,” TIME included Martin Lundstedt, the President and CEO of the Volvo Group. His inclusion seemed to stem from significant sales growth this year in Volvo’s electric vehicle fleet, and included a statement from Lundstedt asking European regulators to tailor policies and regulations to “align, support, [and] compound” net-zero transportation in Europe. 

Considering that Volvo has spent the last two years lobbying against emissions regulations in the US, both on the state and federal level, and currently has a C- for its climate policy engagement as measured by LobbyMap, it seems curious that Volvo leadership would be celebrated as some sort of climate champion. Even if such inclusion is predicated solely on vehicle electrification, Volvo is an active member of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) which has spent most of the past year actively lobbying against state and federal climate legislation.

The transportation sector is massively polluting, and is a major source of the US’s heat-trapping emissions. So why is an executive for a corporation that continues to put considerable time and money into advocating against laws that would curb those emissions being honored with a climate award?

Kara Hurst, Chief Sustainability Officer of Amazon

Kara Hurst, the Chief Sustainability Officer at Amazon, is also featured on TIME’s climate list. Hurst was ostensibly selected because Amazon apparently “leads the world in corporate renewables purchasing, and this year made significant investments in direct air capture technology—technology to extract CO2 from the atmosphere.” Unfortunately, as Food and Water Watch Policy Director Jim Walsh pointed out, direct air capture technology is “expensive, unproven and will ultimately make almost no difference in reducing climate pollution.” Why? Because direct air capture technology requires an untenable quantity of power to operate. A Food and Water Watch report found that “if all electricity generated in the United States were used to power DAC, it would capture only one quarter of the carbon emissions generated by the country each year.” Not only would it be a far better use of time and resources to phase out polluting fossil fuel infrastructure than to attempt to clean up the pollution as it enters the atmosphere, but it is literally impossible to compensate for our current levels of pollution by scaling up direct air capture. DAC is fundamentally a false climate solution, and when it is peddled by fossil fuels interests, it is because polluters recognize that the idea of this technology provides useful cover for polluting business as usual.

Amazon is a huge emitter of greenhouse gasses. It produces the most carbon dioxide of the Big Five tech companies every year, at 16.2 million metric tons of CO₂e emitted annually. Despite its yearslong attempts to rebrand itself as a climate leader, Amazon’s  greenhouse gas emissions have been growing, and it has historically drastically undercounted its carbon footprint. Last winter, Amazon faced allegations of “grotesque” levels of greenwashing in the UK after it was discovered that Amazon’s “eco-friendly” packages were wrapped in plastic and made 5,000 miles away, continuing a long tradition of greenwashing from Amazon. 

Amazon also just this year lobbied to kill proposed emissions regulations in Oregon. Amazon is also actively involved in lobbying against strong clean hydrogen standards. Sounds like a climate champion worth celebrating to me!

Matti Lehmus, President and CEO of the Neste Corporation

Matti Lehmus, President and CEO of the Neste Corporation, was also included on TIME’s list because of Neste’s interest in and involvement with “sustainable aviation fuel, but also renewable diesel and renewable plastics.” Neste, a Finnish oil refining, engineering, and marketing company, claims to be the world’s largest producer of sustainable aviation fuel, but in truth, Neste has helped fuel mass deforestation for years, and its operations are mired in allegations of involvement in “forest fires, ongoing land conflicts, bribery and labour rights abuses.” And fossil oil is still Neste’s highest-volume business.

Neste isn’t a climate leader, it’s a fuels company. Why is TIME pretending otherwise?

Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology of the United Arab Emirates and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company

TIME also selected Sultan Al Jaber, the UAE’s Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) as one of its climate “leaders.” TIME itself, in Al Jaber’s profile, acknowledges that he “hasn’t committed ADNOC to cutting its oil production, nor has he charted a path for it to become a renewables company. Instead, the company is investing more than $150 billion on growth projects, including expanding its crude-oil production capacity to 5 million barrels per day by 2030. A fraction of that money, $15 billion, is dedicated to reducing the emissions that oil extraction will generate.” 

So why was he selected? Al Jaber does also lead a renewable energies firm, but, more than that, Al Jaber is the designated head of climate negotiations at COP28, a position for which many have argued he is utterly unfit. Since his announcement to that role, Al Jaber “has said that climate concerns should never compromise economic growth,” and has done little more than demonstrate the enduring power and destructive influence of the oil and gas industry at the conference. 

Why is TIME celebrating someone who is actively entrenching a global climate apocalyptic future as a climate hero?

Dan Ammann, President of Low Carbon Solutions at ExxonMobil

TIME also included Dan Ammann, the President of Low Carbon Solutions at none other than ExxonMobil, on its list of supposed climate heroes. TIME reasoned that Exxon “has committed to storing 5 million metric tons of carbon per year, and allocated about $17 billion over five years to low-emission initiatives. That represents an average annual investment of $3.5 billion, or 0.9% of the company’s total annual revenue.” 

TIME’s naive credulity that Exxon—one of the corporations most responsible for destabilizing our planet—is a climate leader for spending less than one percent of its revenue on carbon capture is genuinely confounding. It’s not just that carbon capture and storage, as the Center for Biological Diversity pointed out, “is a dangerous delay tactic championed by the fossil fuel industry and other polluters to continue business-as-usual while taking resources away from the needed transition to clean, cheaper renewable energy.” 

It’s not just that Exxon’s measly pledge to spend a smidgeon of its profits on this false solution doesn’t even come close to the amount of pollution that it’s determined to continue polluting, as Exxon is a notoriously massive polluter that continues to advocate against climate legislation. It’s also that Exxon is literally one of the world’s most famous climate criminals, as it has been lying to the public about climate change – which it understood in shocking detail – for many decades, while simultaneously blaming individuals for the havoc it wreaked. If that doesn’t disqualify it for climate leadership awards, I don’t know what does. 


‘Exxon Knew’ sign on a BLM protest in Washington, DC (2015)” by Johnny Silvercloud is marked with Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Note: An earlier version of this post mistakenly listed the Volvo Group as a member of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, it is not, Volvo Cars (a separate entity) is instead.

Climate and Environment

More articles by Toni Aguilar Rosenthal

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