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British Cycling’s Shell partnership sparks greenwashing accusations

National cycling governing body insists deal will accelerate its path towards net zero.

11 October 2022 PA

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British Cycling has faced criticism from environmental groups after announcing an eight-year partnership with energy company Shell UK.

The governing body said the deal, which begins this month and runs until the end of 2030, will accelerate its path towards net zero, but the announcement sparked a torrent of complaints from members on social media, with many saying they would cancel their subscriptions.

At a time when sustainability within cycling has become a huge talking point, British Cycling’s decision to partner with a major oil and gas producer, whose record on environmental issues has been repeatedly criticised, was labelled ‘greenwashing’.

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Jamie Peters said: “Cycling is the epitome of environmentally friendly travel. It’s deeply disappointing that UK Cycling could think it’s appropriate to partner with a fossil fuel giant.

“Shell is continuing to invest billions in oil and gas projects, while using cynical PR initiatives like this partnership to attempt to greenwash its harmful activities.

“Tobacco firms are rightly banned from sports sponsorship due to the damaging health effects. The same should apply to oil and gas companies which are devastating the health of our planet. Shell should have been told to get on its bike.”

Greenpeace UK policy director Dr Doug Parr said: “The idea of Shell helping British Cycling reach net zero is as absurd as beef farmers advising lettuce farmers on how to go vegan.

“After being booted out of museums and other cultural institutions, Big Oil are looking at sports as the next frontier for their brazen greenwash. But their aim hasn’t changed – to distract from the inconvenient fact that the fossil fuel industry is making our planet uninhabitable.”

Only last month, British Cycling angered many of its members by suggesting people should not ride their bikes during the Queen’s funeral, advice which was quickly reversed.

British Cycling has not publicly responded to the criticism this new deal has brought, declining to go beyond the press release issued on 10th October, but it is understood to have expected a strong reaction.

The governing body, however, believes tangible benefits of the partnership will be seen over the course of its eight-year duration, among the first of which will be the appointment of a sustainability manager within the organisation and a shift towards an electric vehicle fleet.

In the press release announcing the deal, British Cycling said the partnership would allow it to give greater backing to Great Britain’s cycling and para-cycling teams, widen access to sport through a new programme called ‘Limitless’, as well as moving the organisation towards net zero.

British Cycling’s chief executive Brian Facer said: “We’re looking forward to working alongside Shell UK over the rest of this decade to widen access to the sport, support our elite riders and help our organisation and sport take important steps towards net zero – things we know our members are incredibly passionate about.

“Within our new commercial programme, this partnership with Shell UK brings powerful support for cycling, will help us to improve and will make more people consider cycling and cyclists.”

Shell UK’s country chair David Bunch said: “We’re very proud to become an official partner to British Cycling.

“The partnership reflects the shared ambitions of Shell UK and British Cycling to get to net zero in the UK as well as encouraging low and zero-carbon forms of transport such as cycling and electric vehicles.”

The partnership with Shell does not replace the deal with HSBC, which was British Cycling’s main sponsor up until the Tokyo Olympics, and the company’s logo will not have the same prominence on team kit.

Although the governing body continues to seek a lead partner, this deal is part of a move to have a wide family of partners rather than being reliant on a single outside organisation.

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