An investigation has revealed the vast scale of sponsorships linked to fossil fuel corporations in Australian arts, sports, education and community organisations. The list was compiled by author Penny Tangey and expanded by the climate group 350.org. Guardian Australia verified and reported the results.
The survey found 535 sponsorship deals for community organisations from fossil fuel-related companies. Fossil fuel giant Woodside Energy had the most known signings with 56 deals. BHP had 44 and had links to another seven through an associated entity, the BHP-Mitsubishi Alliance. Santos had 41 known sponsorships.
Big polluters are ‘engineering social support’
The deals are about building influence, said Belinda Noble from ComsDeclare, a campaign working to ban fossil fuel adverts. “It’s a subtle way of trying to engineer social support, or continued social support, for these polluting products”, she said. “Most of these companies don’t sell to the general population. There’s no reason for them to be spending millions of dollars on sports and arts sponsorships. What they’re trying to do is sell their brand.”
The terms of sponsorship deals are rarely made available to the public. Moreover, they are often subject to non-disclosure agreements. Organisations should therefore consider their policies regarding sponsorship associations, said Kelly Albion from 350.org. However, the responsibility ultimately lay with governments and companies, she added. “I think it’s not on the clubs and organisations – they need money to operate and often those companies are coming in there with big offers”, Albion said. “Often athletes or artists are unable to speak up when their clubs take on these arrangements.”
Public opinion and fossil fuel corporations
Polling from the Australia Institute in October 2022 revealed the majority of Australians – 53 per cent – support a ban on fossil fuel corporations sponsoring national sporting teams. The polling also shows that 60 per cent of Australians agree with the statement that fossil fuel sponsorship “is the new cigarette advertising”.
Likewise, in July 2022, more than 200 health professionals and organisations signed an open letter calling for bans on fossil fuel advertisements due to the devastating health and climate effects. “Fossil fuels are hazardous to human health”, said Roland Sapsford, CEO of Climate Action Health Alliance.”We restrict alcohol and tobacco advertising and sponsorship for health reasons. As leading health professionals have said, we need to bring the fossil fuel industry in line with other restricted products.”
Rejecting fossil fuel sponsorship
Such sentiments are already shifting sponsorship affiliations of cultural institutions. For example, in the latter part of 2022, Australia saw a growing movement of educational, arts and sports organisations cutting ties with polluters.
In September 2022, Macquarie University ditched Santos’ branding and support for a school science roadshow. This followed criticism from senior Australian climate scientist Professor Lesley Hughes, who said fossil fuel sponsorship was inappropriate. The following month, the Science Schools Foundation, which runs the Santos Science Experience, also dropped the oil and gas giant as its main sponsor.
Darwin Festival dropped its sponsorship from oil and gas company Santos in October. The same month, Perth Festival announced it would cease its decades-long sponsorship deal with oil and gas giant Chevron.
Also in October, cricket star Pat Cummins confirmed he would no longer feature in promotional material for the fossil fuel corporation Alinta Energy. Cricket Australia then agreed to end an AUD $40 million sponsorship deal with the company. Australia’s national netball team, the Diamonds, also took a stand against Netball Australia’s sponsorship deal with mining giant Hancock Prospecting. The Victorian government then announced it would take over the four-and-a-half-year deal worth AUD $15m following the controversy.