· Published in Investigations

"Green" Multinationals Exposed

Large multinational energy firms increasingly promote themselves as ‘green’, arguing that they are at the forefront of the energy transition. In reality, these companies have hijacked the transition in order to protect their profits.

‘Green’ multinationals largely behave like fossil fuel giants – no surprise, given that many of these firms are primarily fossil fuel companies. This is true both of private transnational corporations and large state-owned conglomerates, with many of the latter adopting – especially outside the countries where they are based – profit-driven business models that wreak social and environmental havoc. No meaningful energy transition can take place until these greenwashing corporations are dismantled and replaced by a publicly-owned and democratically organised energy sector that is not run for profit.

The findings below are based on profiles of 15 companies, including some of the world’s biggest energy multinationals that are supposedly green in terms of the renewable energy that they produce (or claim to produce) or the transition technology that they manufacture. These firms purport to be at the forefront of climate action – and in doing so, give the impression that the public can simply count on market forces and industry to decarbonise society. Yet these profiles provide evidence that these companies have been consistently undermining energy transition efforts.

The 15 companies profiled in this report have spent a combined total of US$130.77 billion in dividends and US$24.80 billion in share buybacks between 2016 and 2022 — all while still relying on public money to invest in new projects. In total, they made a profit of US$175.86 billion between 2016 and 2022. This is more than seven times the real financial support that rich countries have provided to poor nations to tackle and adapt to climate change (despite pledging US$100 billion a year in 2009). [1] They have continued to amass profits while the world – particularly poor, Southern and racialised communities – has been suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, climate breakdown, the worst energy crisis in decades and a subsequent cost of living crisis, pushing many more millions into poverty. [2]

To compile the company profiles, we collected financial data on each company’s business activities, history and shareholders – alongside information on the social, environmental and political impacts connected to their corporate practices.

The companies profiled are mostly (but not exclusively) energy firms based in North America and Europe: British Gas/Centrica, EDF Renewables, Enbridge Inc., Endesa, E.On, Engie SA, Iberdrola, NextEra Energy, Inc., Ørsted A/S, Southern Company, Vattenfall. Another profiled company, Adani Green Energy Limited, is based in India. In addition, our profiles include two suppliers of key equipment for solar and wind technologies (JinkoSolar Holding Co. Ltd and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy S.A.) and a car- and battery-manufacturer (Tesla, Inc.).

We selected this cross-section of firms from different industry sub-sectors to demonstrate the need to reclaim and transform the energy industry as a whole — from manufacturing to retail, generation to distribution, electric vehicles to storage.

This research was coordinated by the Transnational Institute and executed by CorpWatch, Observatoire des multinationales and Observatori del Deute en la Globalització, all of which are part of the European Network of Corporate Observatories.

Supported by the Open Society Foundation.

Photo: Kevin Dooley cc

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[1Oxfam (2023) ‘Climate Finance Shadow Report 2023: Assessing the delivery of the $100 billion commitment’, 5 June. https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/621500/bp-climate-finance-shadow-report-050623-en.pdf?sequence=19 Last accessed: 30 October 2023 For more information, see page 3: “Oxfam estimates that in 2020 the real value of financial support specifically aimed at climate action was only around $21bn to $24.5bn – much less than officially reported figures suggest.”

[2World Bank. (2022) ‘Poverty’. https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview Last accessed: 6 October 2023