Despite making commitments to address climate change, the PR firm Edelman still worked with the Koch network.
According to a 990 tax disclosure form, Edelman, the biggest PR firm globally, was one of the top-paid contractors for the Charles Koch Foundation in 2022, causing concern among environmental activists.
The large public relations company has issued multiple statements regarding climate change in the last ten years, including a promise to avoid promoting projects that deny its existence. However, working with a branch of the Koch network, known for spreading doubt about climate change, raises doubts about these pledges. Duncan Meisel, the director of Clean Creatives, a non-profit organization advocating for creative agencies to sever ties with polluting fossil fuel companies, made this statement.
Meisel stated that being associated with the Koch network goes against their professed dedication to addressing climate change.
A representative from Edelman stated that the contract between the company and the foundation concluded twelve months ago.
However, according to Meisel, this took place after Edelman had already released climate statements that should have precluded such a agreement. Meisel shared the 2022 tax document with the Guardian.
In 2014, Edelman formally declared that it would no longer work on campaigns that deny the existence of global warming, marking its first-ever statement on the matter.
The company’s stance on climate change states that Edelman acknowledges and accepts the scientific evidence supporting its existence. They make it known that they will not take on any projects from clients that seek to deny the reality of climate change.
Several months later, as negotiations for the 2015 Paris climate summit grew more prominent, the company ended its association with the largest oil advocacy group in the United States, and shortly thereafter with all coal companies.
In 2021, the company released a revised environmental promise that does not include a commitment to avoid working on climate denial. This new pledge seems to have replaced the previous one found on Edelman’s website.
Meisel stated that the recent statement was more ambiguous and it was uncertain if this indicated a real alteration in Edelman’s practices. He questioned if it meant they would resume collaborating with individuals who deny certain beliefs.
Edelman did not explicitly mention if this indicated a shift in policy, but stated that “all previous policies were revised to align with our Climate Commitments”, which were initially released in November 2021 in response to increasing demands from climate activists.
Those commitments omit the climate denial pledge but include a promise to “put science and facts first”. It’s “particularly striking” that the firm would begin a contract with the Charles Koch Foundation after publishing them, said Meisel.
According to the tax form, the agreement between the PR company and the Charles Koch Foundation for the year 2022 was valued at slightly more than $100,000. Christine Arena, a former executive vice-president at Edelman and advocate for climate issues, stated that this amount is “extremely small” for a company like Edelman.
Although, she mentioned, Edelman has been a proponent of initiatives that contribute to global warming. The public relations company and its affiliated companies have been involved in efforts to hinder climate-related laws. In 2014, the company faced criticism for fabricating a fake grassroots organization in support of the environmentally damaging Keystone XL pipeline. Additionally, it has entered into substantial agreements with major oil companies, such as the United Arab Emirates, which hosted the global climate talks last year.
Arena, who currently works in the field of social impact film-making, stated that there is a consistent discrepancy between Edelman’s words and actions.
According to Meisel, the connection between Edelman and the Charles Koch Foundation does not necessarily represent the entirety of their relationship with the Koch network. It is possible that the firm has entered into larger agreements with Koch Industries, a multinational corporation that is not required to disclose its finances since it is a for-profit entity. Edelman did not provide any information about their potential involvement with additional initiatives within the Koch network.
Edelman has collaborated with initiatives supported by the Koch brothers in previous instances, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council. This organization has a history of opposing climate policies. Additionally, Meisel mentioned that Steve Lombardo, who oversees marketing and communications at Koch Industries, used to work for Edelman. Furthermore, between 2014 and 2016, Koch Industries hired multiple former Edelman employees.
Meisel stated that there is typically a sharing of ideas between companies that collaborate closely. Edelman did not provide any answers regarding the staff.
The tax form for 2022 does not mention the specific collaborations between the Charles Koch Foundation and Edelman. However, during that year, the foundation, led by fossil fuel tycoon Charles Koch, provided financial support to various organizations that advocate climate skepticism, as seen in disclosure documents.
Some of these organizations include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has been actively opposing US climate policies and dismisses climate change as “global warming alarmism”; the Atlas Foundation, which has been pushing for laws against climate protests; and the R St Institute, the Manhattan Institute, and the Fraser Institute, whose members often publish articles questioning the validity of climate science.
According to Meisel, since Edelman has not clearly defined its climate commitments, it is challenging to determine which clients are excluded from its promises.
According to Arena, since the commitments have been repeatedly broken, they should not be viewed as official policy.
According to her, a climate policy encompasses actions, behavior, and business choices. However, in reality, Edelman’s policy is to make empty promises and act differently.