F1 Sponsor under fire for misleading sustainability claims

Saudi Aramco and the Financial Times have been accused of greenwashing after claims made about sustainable fuels were cast in doubt.

Thred Media
3 min readMar 19, 2024

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As concerns regarding climate change and environmental sustainability mount, corporations are under increased pressure to embrace and offer green initiatives.

But this demand also exacerbates the risk of greenwashing, as the most unsustainable industries exploit consumer interests for their own gain and, ultimately, the planet’s detriment.

The latest company to face greenwashing allegations is F1 sponsor Saudi Aramco, a state-owned oil giant who — along with the Financial Times — has been accused of spreading ‘misleading’ claims about sustainable fuels.

Aramco, who is partnered with the Aston Martin racing team for Formula One, was revealed to be paying the FT to feature articles that suggested the company was becoming greener.

The articles claimed Aramco was ‘leading efforts to decarbonise transport by working with F1 to develop sustainable biofuels’. One statement read that ‘Aramco is a global sponsor of the sport, which aims for its races to be powered entirely by sustainable fuels by 2026’.

‘Aramco has also partnered with the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team and, through joining R&D, will support the team’s efforts to meet Formula One’s sustainable fuels goal.’

But despite claims made in these campaigns, researchers have argued that the biofuels discussed aren’t a real, scalable solution to decarbonising road transport due to the vast amount of energy required to produce them.

In addition to this, Aramco’s fossil fuel operations vastly outweigh any stake at green initiatives — real or not.

Greenwashing poses a significant threat to both consumers and the environment. By disseminating misleading information about their environmental practices, companies not only undermine consumer trust but also divert attention and resources away from genuine efforts to combat climate change.

As a respected news outlet, the FT has come under heavy scrutiny for their involvement in Aramco’s spread of misinformation. Andrew Simms of the New Weather Institute said ‘The content at the heart of these allegations was jointly produced by Aramco and the FT.’

‘The Financial Times built a reputation of quality climate journalism that is now being put under threat by working with the world’s biggest oil company to spread misleading messages on how to cut pollution’.

Aramco is 95% owned by the Saudi Arabian state, which has an increasing influence in the world of sport — not least in the realm of football, where Saudi recently purchased UK club Newcastle United in 2021.

F1 has an estimated 1.56 billion fans worldwide, making it a target for Saudi interests. ‘Saudi Aramco poses a direct threat to a liveable planet’ said Frank Huisingh of Fossil Free Football.

‘Big oil is deeply unpopular, so they spend hundreds of millions on PR, including associating […] with the sports we love.’

Complaints by the UK advertising watchdog ASA condemned the oil giant’s ‘confusing use of terminology’ and ‘misleading environmental claims’ in promoting its ‘advanced’ and ‘low carbon’ fuels.

A spokesperson for F1, who is not subject to any complaints, said it had set itself a target to reach net zero emissions by 2030.

‘We have the most efficient engines on the planet in F1 and we will move from conventional fuel to sustainable fuels in 2026.

‘Aramco is working with us to produce the technology for the fuels but there are many other fuel suppliers in the pot who are working with teams they supply to develop their own’.

Regardless of any efforts made toward F1’s goal, campaigners have argued that Aramco’s adverts obscure the fact that the company is overwhelmingly geared towards oil production.

According to reports, Aramco currently pumps out around nine million barrels of crude oil a day.

The actions of Aramco and FT also raise questions about the efficacy of existing regulations and oversight mechanisms in addressing greenwashing.

Despite growing awareness of the issue, the lack of stringent enforcement mechanisms allows companies to engage in deceptive marketing practices with impunity. As a result, consumers are left vulnerable to manipulation, while genuine efforts to promote sustainability are overshadowed by the false promises of greenwashing.

Meaningful progress towards sustainability requires a concerted effort by both businesses and regulators to ensure that environmental claims are backed by concrete actions and measurable outcomes.

Originally written by Flo Bellinger for Thred.

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