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Time100 sparks backlash with official climate business leader list — here's what one expert had to say

Simply put, a person in a job like this has a lot more to do to earn national recognition in this area.

Simply put, a person in a job like this has a lot more to do to earn national recognition in this area.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Time magazine has released its first-ever TIME100 Climate, a list of one hundred individuals who are ostensibly having the biggest positive impact on the environment.

Whatever the magazine's methodology for determining who makes the list, however, it seems like it could be improved upon, as they selected multiple people whose companies have done incalculable harm to our planet.

@johnapabon #greenwashing #greenwashingalert #greenwashingsucks #timemagazine #climateleaders #exxonmobil #exxon @TIME ♬ original sound - Sustainability made simple

What happened?

TikToker and sustainability author John Pabon, aka Sustainability made simple (@johnapabon), recorded a video about the fact that Dan Ammann, the "President of Low Carbon Solutions" at ExxonMobil, made the list. (The video contains several justified swear words.)

ExxonMobil, a business based on mining and selling dirty energy sources like oil and gas, is one of the most egregious polluters in the world and has contributed more to the ongoing overheating of our planet than perhaps any other corporation.

It also spends huge amounts of money on public relations campaigns to convince people that it is responsible and sustainable, employs lobbyists to block legislation that would help the environment, and has no actual plans to stop its polluting ways at any point. 

Any initiatives undertaken by President of Low Carbon Solutions Dan Ammann are, as Pabon points out, pure greenwashing — the practice that companies employ of using misleading tactics to pretend that their products/services are environmentally friendly to buy goodwill with the public. 

Other executives at heavily polluting companies that made the TIME100 Climate list include Volvo CEO Martin Lundstedt, whose company spent the last two years lobbying against emissions regulations in the United States; Amazon Chief Sustainability Officer Kara Hurst; and Sultan Al Jaber, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

Why is this concerning?

Not only is it ridiculous to include multiple executives of oil companies on a list of the hundred greatest climate heroes, it is quite an insult to the (to be frank, relatively few) people included on the list and the many omitted who are actually fighting for our planet and not for corporate shareholders. Nemonte Nenquimo, for example, is an indigenous activist from Ecuador who is a deserving selection for working to end oil extraction in the Amazon.  

So criticism of these selections doesn't mean every choice on the list is bad, or even that none of the criticized selections have done anything meaningful to nudge the companies they work for in a better direction. It simply means that selecting figures from high-polluting companies, especially ones like Exxon that have a long history of showing little regard for the environmental impact of their business actions, is participating in corporate greenwashing. 

In other words, these companies can now boast having someone who made the TIME100 Climate list. There are certainly hundreds of other more purely uncompromising advocates for combating climate change than any employees of these companies, regardless of how well-intentioned someone might be, unless that person has a conclusively impressive achievement to their name at their company that goes well beyond what anyone could label as greenwashing. 

In the case of the ExxonMobil president whose selection inspired Pabon's TikTok critique, Time credited Ammann with Exxon's allocating about $3.5 billion per year over five years to "low-emission initiatives," primarily or entirely meaning carbon capture and storage.

That is better than nothing, to be sure, but even Time's selection notes that this is merely 0.9% of the company's annual revenue, when about 100% of that revenue is coming at the expense of our overheating planet. The company takes steps like these for PR reasons rather than ideological ones, and ultimately these positive efforts still land at the bare minimum.

Simply put, a person in a job like Ammann's has a lot more to do to earn national recognition in this area. 

How can Time do better in the future?

Oil companies, and other corporations that are responsible for massive planet-overheating emissions, are going to continue to engage in greenwashing. However, publications like Time should, in theory, be under no obligation to aid them in their greenwashing efforts. 

The fact that companies like ExxonMobil work so hard to obfuscate the harm they cause shows that public opinion and public pressure are threatening to their ongoing harmful practices.

We can't know Time's motivations for its selections, but if an influential publication like Time wanted to be on the side of the planet instead of the side of corporations that might be more likely to advertise with them, adhering to higher standards of qualifications could make a big difference in future versions of this list.

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