Friends of the Earth: Charity or Company?

The reverberations of the ASA ruling continue.  Friends of the Earth still insist the ruling doesn’t mean anything, see this from Channel 4 News e.g or from 2:50 here on BBC Radio 4 Today .

The FoE intransigency meant a rare intervention from the ASA themselves:

One week into 2017 and the action we’ve taken to stop misleading ad claims about fracking by Friends of the Earth has hit the national media and prompted widespread debate and commentary.  But amidst the reports, the public comments by the parties involved and the social media chatter, there’s a risk that the facts become obscured.

So let me be clear. We told Friends of the Earth that based on the evidence we’d seen, claims it made in its anti-fracking leaflet or claims with the same meaning cannot be repeated, and asked for an assurance that they wouldn’t be.  Friends of the Earth gave us an assurance to that effect.  Unless the evidence changes, that means it mustn’t repeat in ads claims about the effects of fracking on the health of local populations, drinking water or property prices.

Friends of the Earth has said we “dropped the case”. That’s not an accurate reflection of what’s happened.  We thoroughly investigated the complaints we received and closed the case on receipt of the above assurance.  Because of that, we decided against publishing a formal ruling, but plainly that’s not the same thing as “dropping the case”.  Crucially, the claims under the microscope mustn’t reappear in ads, unless the evidence changes.  Dropped cases don’t have that outcome.

Resolving cases informally, usually following our receipt of an assurance that claims won’t be repeated, is an important tool in our toolkit, allowing us to be proportionate and targeted in how we tackle problems.  No-one should be under any illusion that the process of looking into these matters is anything other than rigorous.

Advertisers of all kinds, be they commercial companies, charities or even government departments, sometimes fight tooth and nail to defend their right to promote their products, services or policies or to raise awareness of their causes or ideas.  That’s perfectly legitimate.  But when advertising claims aren’t properly supported by evidence and people are likely to be misled, we’ll step in to make sure they don’t reappear.  What matters is advertisers are held to account when they need to be.

Fracking is clearly a highly contentious issue that polarises opinion.  Both sides of the debate want to get their views across; want to win hearts and minds.  Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. As an even-handed regulator, we don’t take sides.  Friends of the Earth got it wrong on this occasion, but the businesses behind the fracking that it opposes also have to follow the advertising rules.  Indeed, we’ve taken action before against the fracking industry for its own ad claims, when they haven’t stood up to scrutiny.

Debates between parties with polar opposite views can become highly fractious.  But that won’t get in the way of us taking action to stop problem ads from reappearing.

The FoE were last seen via Drill or Drop

“This blog does not accurately reflect the agreement that we reached with the ASA. Our chief executive, and legal advisor, are on their way to speak to them to challenge this.”

From the same source in the meanwhile, from Cuadrilla;

This afternoon, Cuadrilla confirmed that it had urged the Charity Commission to reopen an investigation into FOE.

The Commission dropped an inquiry when the organisation said claims about fracking had been made by its non-charitable arm, Friends of the Earth Limited.

In a letter sent yesterday, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, Francis Egan, wrote:

“On the face of it Friends of the Earth charitable Trust has sought to exploit a loophole in your rules to avoid regulation and sanction, in the first place by misleading you and then by assuring you of a suspension of campaigning by the charity on the politically sensitive topic of fracking.

“It appears that Friends of the Earth regard the Charity Commission as being a toothless watchdog that rarely barks and never bites.”

The episode got me to looking at FoE a bit more.  FoE, the charity or the company who are certainly indistinguishable to everyone else, profess to have a number of campaigns.  Three others are Bees, Air Pollution, Shop Local First, and recently refugees.

Strangely, the refugees campaign was part of an advertising blitz on my local South West Trains, but seems to be absent from both the web site and any interaction between FoE and the rabid Brexiteers in Lancashire and Yorkshire.  Bees have been a major component of another SW Trains ad campaign asking for donations via text messaging from bored commuters trapped in their trains.

What struck me recently was how I heard a  whole new range of FoE spokespeople. How many of them are there?  There seem to be legions of them.  So what exactly does Friends of the Earth do?  It raises about £5 million a year but seems to put the preponderance of its resources towards fighting fracking.  This is a list I constructed  via a Twitter Analysis.

Fracking Campaigners at Friends of the Earth

Craig Bennett   @CraigBennett3   Chief Executive

Jake White @jacobuswhite  Lawyer

Fracking Full or mostly 

Rose Dickinson  @rose_dickinson

Simon Bullock @simonbullock

Donna Hume    @DonnaHume

Guy Shrubsole @guyshrubsole

Ali Abbas  @ali_mfoe

Brenda Pollack @brendapollack

Neil Verlander  @neilvc

Rosie Cotgreave @rosiecotgreave

Simon Bowens  @SimonBowens

Rachel Kennerley   @rjkennerley

Jenny Rosenberg  @RosenbergJMR

Asan Rehman @chilledasad100

Sophie Neuburg @SophieNeuburg

Jake White @jacobuswhite

Helen Rimmer @HelenJqRimmer

Tony Bosworth @tonybosworth

Liz Hutchins @Liz_Hutchins

Andrew Pendleton @AJPendleton

Pollyanna Steiner @PollyFoE

Anna Watson @1annawatson

Richard Dyer @RichardDyer63

Aaron Kiely @AaronAtFoE

Simon Phillips @simonphillips

Laura McFarlane-Shop @Laura_FOE

Ted Burke @Ted35Burke


Emi Murphy @murphy_emi

Nick Rau @NickRau_FOE

Air Pollution

Jenny Bates @BatesJenny

In short, FoE is now primarily an anti fracking organisation, which may give credence to the Cuadrilla charge that they are a political organisation in charity clothing.  Or simply they are a self-perpetuating organisation which is very interested in saving their particular patch of the earth, the one their ass is sitting on.  Which is OK. Everyone has to eat, except of course for gas industry people.

A consistent obsession of FoE has been to paint Cuadrilla (who have less than 20 or so full time employees lately since they had a big round of layoffs in 2015 and 2016 due to the FoE inspired delays) as being a faceless company only interested in profit.  This strikes me as a classic projection bias on the Friends of the Earth’s part

Projection bias is a feature in human thinking where one thinks that others have the same priority, attitude or belief that one harbours oneself, even if this is unlikely to be the case.

In simple terms, FoE are obsessed with money, so they think everyone else shares it too. After all FoE spend a lot of money not only thinking of money, but raising it too:

Every £1 you give to Friends of the Earth adds up to create positive change for our environment.

Around 98% of all donations we receive are from individuals and trusts. 

  • 75p goes directly to research and campaigning
    Getting to the root of problems and identifying the best solutions. Pooling the knowledge and resources people need to take action and get results. Being the campaigners that put your concerns to key decision-makers and arguing passionately for change on your behalf.
  • 24p helps generate more funds
    Fundraising is crucial to ensure Friends of the Earth remains a free agent. We don’t take money from any source that might try to influence our work. Almost every penny for our vital campaigns comes from people like you.
  • 1p covers the costs of governance
    and meeting charity and company regulatory requirements, including: audit fees, preparation of accounts and senior managers reporting to board meetings.

Another favourite FoE obsession of course is that fracking is an unsustainable Ponzi scheme because drillers use the profits of one well to drill the next as the first one declines and so on.  But FoE invest 24% in their unsustainable Ponzi too. And if 24% strikes you as a tad high, it is. WWF, an environmental charity uses 11 % of it’s funds for fundraising. Oxfam needs only 8%.  Even Greenpeace USA needs only 12.8% for fundraising.

Another important metric is that WWF and Oxfam do measurably improve both  animal and human life.  FoE have “targets” of preventing  climate change at the same time as they fight  the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  opinion on of fracking’s role in it:

Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the working group that drew up the report, said it was “quite clear” that shale gas – extracted through the controversial process of fracking – “can be very consistent with low carbon development and decarbonisation”.

By the way, on the subject of money.  The FoE obviously spends well north of a million pounds a year in salaries alone opposing fracking, which is probably  twice the entire PR budget of the entire UK onshore industry.  They also have a big budget for web design.  The donation buttons to your left still work. I think.  It’s been a long time.  If you work in the onshore gas sector anywhere, you have a vested interest in your business in fighting those who don’t want you to have a business at all.  My current fundraising versus what I spend ratio is very deeply in negative figures. I shouldn’t have to ask. But I am.

FoE constantly talk about how we should think of future generations. Me too.  One is 18, one is 21. The rest of this project receives donations indirectly via the NHS, i.e my wife.  Please don’t force me to put up pictures of my dog either. Thanks




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