Another Summer of sport comes to an end. Although the sport wont stop there, nothing quite beats a summer packed with great events to watch both in person and on TV. But this summer there was one name that continuously cropped up, INEOS.
The petrochemical’s name was plastered all over team kits, projected around stadiums, continuously on the lips of commentators, and printed on the merchandise for fans. They’re doing sportswashing in a big way, and they’re mighty good at it.
They’ve got their little fracking hands into many sporting pies, from the professional cycling team INEOS Grenadiers (formally known as Team Sky), a third stake in Mercedes F1 team, to the All Blacks- New Zealand’s rugby team (the most successful team in the world), Sir Ben Ainslie’s sailing team INEOS Britannia, as well as several football teams and a continues interest in buying Manchester United.
Not every major petrochemical company has a director of sport. In many respects their strategy towards growth in sports is more considered than that of their environmental strategy. There may be companies who have invested more, but there are few who can match the number of sports assets that INEOS have accumulated.
INEOS are perhaps the masters of sportswashing. The average person doesn’t really know what they do, they’re not like your Shell’s or BPs, the big baddies of the oil world. Yet they’re not like the few Arab countries who are also deploying a sport washing tactic to cover-up their dismal human rights track record. INEOS’s impact on the world is a little less obvious and this makes them perfect to slip through the net more successfully than the others mentioned. Yes they’ve had the occasional protest but on the whole the majority are happy to cheer on the team and the investment.
INEOS have been accused of operating in a blind spot, while the eyes are on the oil and gas giants, companies like INEOS have been using our resources like a Pitbull with a chew toy.
The company is the largest petrochemical producer in Europe and is headed up by the UK’s richest person, Sir Jim Ratcliffe. A prolific tax dodging, Brexit flag waving, fracking supporting business man.
INEOS does not extract oil or gas to the extent as some of the other big oil giants, helping it to stay under the radar a little more. Yet they are one of largest producers of chemicals, including chlorine, and polymers which go on to create many of the overused plastics we regularly are exposed to such as PVC, polystyrene, and polyethylene. From your Indian takeaway packaging to a supermarket ‘bag for life’, or your mobile phone, it’s more than likely you will have come into contact with a product made with INEOS petrochemicals.
They’ve expanded their own product lines to include cars, clothing and more recently their new line of household products hit the shelves in supermarkets. Hand soaps, fabric conditioners, hand sanitizer and washing up liquids alike. Their hand soaps also come in aptly name “eco refills”, which is very ironic. INEOS is making its way into your home in more ways than one.
You can see the strategy though, if the majority of the public associate them with the leading names in sport, they wont associate them with the million of tonnes of carbon that they emit every year. When they say INEOS you’re supposed to think almond and orange blossom hand cream, not chemical leak. It’s much harder to point the finger when the public is not 100% sure what you do.
Yet INEOS are still part of the world that inflicts pain and misery on millions, and the company have a long list of blunders that equate to no more than a middle finger to the environment and environmental legislation. In 2018 one of their English plants received one of the lowest compliance scores, a major fire broke out at one of their sites in Cologne, they had an oil leak in Norway and steam leak in France. They operate all over the world happily accepting the insignificant financial penalties for non-compliance, omitting greenhouse gases and continuing to perpetuate a life in plastic.
Yet much closer to home we have INEOS Grangemouth, their biggest plant. In 2019 alone the Grangemouth site emitted 32 million tonnes of carbon. It is perhaps poetic irony that by 2050 it is predicted that INEOS Grangemouth will be underwater. It would almost feel like justice if raising sea levels weren’t going to effect everyone else. Saying that, the community of Grangemouth have been put through quite a lot already. From flaring taking place all night, to a chemical leak in 2017 which saw 17 tonnes of ethylene released from a cracked pipe. This resulted in INEOS being slapped on the wrist with a £400,000 fine. However did they survive such financial hardship we will never know. Overall the residents of Grangemouth have had to put up with a dismal quality of air pollution.
Yet over a quarter of INEOS’s site lay over in the US, and there is no indication that they intend to slow their expansion, as long as they can keep fracking. Yet even in a country that deploys dramatically diluted environmental legislation, INEOS still can’t comply. It was found that between 2014 and 2017 12 out of 14 of INEOS’s US plants were noncompliant with major environmental regulations for a at least a three-month period, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s database.
Their US operations are without question the most controversial, as without them there is no fracking. The controversial method to extract shale gas emits greenhouse gases, creates a loss of habitats, releases toxic gases and sometimes triggers earthquakes. Although the UK reinstated it’s ban on fracking that doesn’t mean Mr Ratcliffe hasn’t been biting at the heels of politicians to reverse their standpoint. Like a three year-old asking for a sweetie, he will not let it go. Yet even though the UK has banned fracking that doesn’t mean we’ve banned shale gas, oh no. Since 2016 INEOS has imported shale gas into Grangemouth. This really demonstrates the hypocrisy of our environmental policy, it’s okay as long as it doesn’t happen here.
It’s interesting though, we no longer would accept a football team being sponsored by a cigarette brand, or a sailing team to be sponsored by KFC for example. Yet INEOS the chemical and fracking giant gets the green light. Of course, INEOS won’t be excepting their sales jump because of their sponsorship, but they will be expecting some PR magic to take place.
Many aren’t fooled by the faced, but for the masses the magic might be working.