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ESG scrutiny triggers rising claims of “greenwashing”


TotalEnergies, a multinational integrated French energy and petroleum company, is facing investigation over a “greenwashing” complaint from environmental groups.

Lawsuits and complaints alleging major large oil and gas companies have deceived the public and made misleading statements about their impact on climate change have been on the increase with TotalEnergies now joining an ever lengthening list of targets for action.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria create a framework for helping investors who want to incorporate personal values into their investment approach. However, ESG claims are increasingly subject to scrutiny and “greenwashing” lawsuits have been brought against airlines, restaurants, banks, retailers, and car companies.

Greenwashing is the practice of using marketing and PR tactics to overamplify a company’s ESG efforts for the purpose of gaining greater favour from consumers, investors and employees.

The Nanterre public prosecution office in France is investigating TotalEnergies over alleged "misleading commercial practices.” The investigation was opened in December 2021, on a complaint originally filed in 2020, but has only just been confirmed.

"This complaint is the subject of an open investigation for misleading commercial practices," the prosecutor's office said.

There has been a series of civil lawsuits and complaints filed by environmental groups arguing TotalEnergies' public advertising of its climate-friendly investments are misleading compared to the total amount of money the company invests in oil and gas exploration and production.

It is alleged a rebranding campaign by TotalEnergies claiming a goal of ‘net zero’ by 2050 is misleading the public. It is also claimed the company is relying on unproven technology and is avoiding “ meaningful action” to reduce its emissions.

Total has denied the accusations of so-called “greenwashing” and responded to the investigation stating: "TotalEnergies implements its strategy in a concrete way -investments, new businesses, significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, etc. - and is in line with the objectives that the company has set itself to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.”

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