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The Genuine Index - Series 1/Episode 11: Shell UK’s sponsorship of British Cycling

Every week Brazil sits down to evaluate a CSR campaign's authenticity and execution. We call this The Genuine Index.


Campaign summary

Shell UK has recently made the decision to become the official sponsor of British Cycling for the next eight years. From its communications, Shell made it clear that its intentions for this partnership is to get more people to cycle, make cycling more accessible for people with a disability, and to help British Cycling become net zero.


Big ambitions, but are Shell UK’s intentions genuine, or is this a classic example of greenwashing? Certainly the media and the British cycling public quickly deemed this to be the latter, but we dove in a little deeper to see if there was more to it.


Review

Shell, like other petroleum and chemical companies, have a poor track record and relatively negative consumer perception. Previous strategies, lobbying, and marketing have tried to ensure the world continues to depend on fossil fuels. However they lost that battle, and companies such as Shell need to change - and change quickly or die. And regardless of that negative perception, since more than 80 percent of all vehicles sold in the UK in September run on fossil fuels, Shell and others in this sector still need to exist.

Its easy to judge a company on their legacy, and when British Cycling announced its long-term partnership with Shell UK, it was easy to jump on the negative bandwagon.

And while Shell UK may be doing great things to achieve net zero by encouraging more people to cycle, it overlooked some major things when embarking in this sponsorship.


  1. Shell has a negative reputation. This is a company that perpetuates fossil fuel production and is resistant to the new sustainability order. This sponsorship does not address this, which is far more important than to help British Cycling achieve net zero status.

  2. While this may come to some good, no targets for change were made.

  3. The aims of this sponsorship were weak at best.


Was it genuine? The undisclosed amount of sponsorship money will probably do some good. So whether you believe Shell or not, its money is going for something good, no matter how small the impact.


But the audience is the cycling community, and they clearly thought that it wasn’t genuine. We don’t need Shell to tell us to cycle more, and it benefits few for its logo to be placed on elite cyclists. At the end of the day, this is a marketing exercise, not a purpose-driven one.


Most of the Genuine Index panel were unimpressed with this effort, and while some good may come out of it, if it smells like greenwash, it probably is greenwash.


Conclusion

Shell should have done better. As an example, it could have built up its creds in cycling at a grassroots level or even invested in more infrastructure to make cycling more accessible. If activities were done prior to this, it would have made more sense and build strong support from the cycling community.


It could have also detailed why Shell is sponsoring cycling. This remains unclear.

This initiative could have been as part of the longer-term ambition in Shell’s transition from a fossil fuel company into something more relevant for our non-fossil fuel future, but this isn’t it.


View details about the campaign: British Cycling announcement


Genuine Index score: -1.28


The Genuine Index* Series 1 2022

Adidas 9.60

Cadburys Sign with Fingers 8.9

Amazon x A League of Their Own 7.0

Bodyform 7.3

Amazon 7.0

Mayor of London 6.00

HP & Hershey's 5.00

Reign Total Body Fuel 2.75

Hennessy X NBA 1.50

Balenciaga 0.00

Shell x British Cycling -1.28


* -10.0 (Total BS & Corporate Wash) - 10.0 (Totally Genuine)

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