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“A step in the right direction or a nice bit of greenwashing?” Shell-backed British Cycling aiming to halve carbon emissions in six years and achieve net zero by 2035 – as governing body says partnership with oil giant is key to “positive progress”

The national governing body’s first long-term sustainability strategy also aims to support organisers to deliver sustainable events and to encourage more people to swap their car for a bike for short journeys

British Cycling says it is aiming to achieve net zero by 2035 and halve its carbon emissions by 2030, as part of the national governing body’s first environmental sustainability strategy – a document published just weeks after “hacked” billboards were placed across the country accusing British Cycling of “fast tracking the apocalypse” thanks to its partnership with oil and gas giant Shell.

However, the governing body, which this month agreed a lead sponsorship deal with Lloyds Bank, says its hugely controversial partnership with Shell is “helping accelerate” its journey to net zero and enabling the uptake of more low and zero-carbon forms of transport.

Brandalism Shell and British Cycling ad (Brandalism)

> “When British Cycling teamed up with Shell, many of us puked our bodies inside out”: Cyclists praise climate activists’ guerilla ad campaign as Shell slams “misleading” billboards

Developed alongside sustainability consultants Think Beyond, British Cycling’s sustainability strategy sets out the body’s plans to reduce its environmental footprint, through its travel and supply chains, to “become leaders” in sustainable events, and to influence people’s behaviour by encouraging fewer short car journeys and more trips by bike.

According to the governing body’s research, British Cycling’s total carbon emissions equate to 10,824 tonnes CO₂e, the equivalent annual emissions of over 850 UK citizens. Of those almost 11,000 tonnes, 55 per cent are derived from British Cycling’s supply chain, 34 per cent from business travel, and four per cent from electricity used at the National Cycling Centre.

> Cycling and sustainability: What the bike industry is doing, and what you can do to further reduce your carbon footprint as a cyclist

Along with its ambition to reach net zero by 2035, British Cycling says it hopes to reduce those carbon emissions by 50 per cent within the next six years, while also eradicating avoidable waste.

Part of this strategy involves addressing its supply chain issues by choosing to work with more sustainable partners and suppliers, such as cycle insurance firm Bikmo, component company Renishaw, and eyewear brand Coral, and introducing British Cycling’s first waste policy to cover outdated and used kit, event materials, and food.

Great Britain's Sophie Capewell at 2022 UCI Track Worlds (copyright Alex Broadway, SWpix.com).JPG

(Alex Broadway, SWpix.com)

It’s in the sphere of energy and travel, however, where British Cycling’s oft-criticised partnership with Shell appears to be most apparent.

“A key pillar of our partnership with Shell UK is in helping accelerate British Cycling’s journey to net zero and encouraging the uptake of more low and zero-carbon forms of transport, such as cycling and electric vehicles,” the report says.

> Chris Hoy: British Cycling deal can ‘put cycling on Shell’s agenda’

Shell is also supporting, the governing body says, British Cycling and Skoda’s plans to transition its fleet of vehicles to low and zero-carbon cars and vans.

“In the meantime,” the report continues, “to help tackle some of British Cycling’s fleet carbon emissions, Shell UK has provided support through its carbon offsetting programme against the fuel used. By the end of April 2024 over 45,000kg of CO₂ from British Cycling vehicles have been offset in full via Shell UK’s nature-based solutions.”

Shell was also credited in the report with supporting British Cycling with the replacement of diesel derny bikes with new electric models in four velodromes across the country.

British Cycling National Derny Championships, Keirin, Derby Arena Velodrome (Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)

(Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)

Meanwhile, the oil giant’s Avelia platform, which enables its customers to contribute to the cost of sustainable aviation fuels, will also help reduce British Cycling’s emissions from air transport, the report says, allowing the body to inset 353 tonnes of CO₂e, abating all of Team GB’s projected air travel in 2024.

> "Greenwashing, pure and simple" - fury as Shell UK sponsors British Cycling

The second part of British Cycling’s strategy centres on delivering cycling events and activities “that are the most sustainable in the world”, by introducing a “Planet Positive” package of support to race and event organisers later this year.

The governing body hopes its new programme for events will build on the example of the Otley Grand Prix, where a secure bike park exists for spectators and partnerships are agreed for a minimum of three years to reduce waste when it comes to event branding.

Finally, the report also includes a broader commitment to get more people on bikes and, by working with the likes of Cycling UK, to normalise cycling as everyday transport.

“Our first sustainability strategy is a celebration of the brilliant work already taking place in all corners of our community, and reflects our ambition to become a truly world-leading sports body in the fight against the impacts of climate change,” British Cycling’s External Affairs and Marketing Director, Caroline Julian, said announcing the strategy’s publication.

“Working alongside our partners we’ve already made some really positive progress, and look forward to sharing this with our community over the years ahead. We’re grateful to the team at Think Beyond, who have provided invaluable support throughout the strategy’s development.”

> Extinction Rebellion protest British Cycling's Shell deal at National Cycling Centre

While many within the cycling community have welcomed British Cycling’s commitment to reducing its emissions and building a more sustainable, bike-friendly community, others questioned Shell’s role in helping it do so.

“A step in the right direction, but also a nice bit of greenwashing for Shell by mentioning their sustainable aviation fuels, but not their historic contribution to climate change or their historic contribution to stopping climate action,” wrote Mark Doidge on X, formerly Twitter, following the report’s publication.

British Cycling’s new sustainability strategy has also emerged just weeks after a striking billboard campaign condemned its partnership with Shell – with one of those behind the campaign describing it as a response to Shell “co-opting the emotional connections we have with sports to launder their dirty brand”.

Brandalism's anti-Shell British Cycling ads (Brandalism)

> British Cycling and Shell: THAT very controversial deal discussed

The fake, or “hacked”, adverts – which popped up all over the country in the middle of May, including near the National Cycling Centre in Manchester – included one featuring a cyclist dressed in a mocked-up version of the Team GB kit drinking from a barrel of Shell-brand oil, with the slogan: “We’ve teamed up with British Cycling to help us fast track the apocalypse”. British Cycling’s logo, meanwhile, was modified to read “Official Partner in Crime.”

Another poster showed a cyclist slipping on oil and falling from his bike, with the tag line: “Shell, pedalling lies since 1970. Now proudly polluting British Cycling.”

The campaign won praise from cyclists and climate activists who have been critical of British Cycling’s association with Shell, since the governing body agreed an eight-year sponsorship deal with the multinational oil and gas company in 2022, a partnership that attracted accusations of greenwashing, protests at the governing body’s HQ, and led to many cyclists revoking their British Cycling memberships.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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22 comments

Avatar
alexuk | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

You just can't please some people. If I were Shell, I'd be so depressed. Would people really prefer they do absolutley nothing, and not sponsor British Cycling?. I think the masses are all just so brainwashed to hate these companies, that they don't want to even consider they might not be as bad as certain groups like to make out. I for one am glad that they're handing over some money to support cycling. Thank you Shell.

Avatar
ROOTminus1 replied to alexuk | 2 weeks ago
12 likes
alexuk wrote:

You just can't please some people. If I were Shell, I'd be so depressed. Would people really prefer they do absolutley nothing, and not sponsor British Cycling?. I think the masses are all just so brainwashed to hate these companies, that they don't want to even consider they might not be as bad as certain groups like to make out. I for one am glad that they're handing over some money to support cycling. Thank you Shell.

I'd like to thank the stazi for polishing their boots before they kick me with them. It's nice to not get dog shit in my wounds

Avatar
wycombewheeler replied to ROOTminus1 | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

ROOTminus1 wrote:
alexuk wrote:

... they might not be as bad as certain groups like to make out. I for one am glad that they're handing over some money to support cycling. Thank you Shell.

I'd like to thank the stazi for polishing their boots before they kick me with them. It's nice to not get dog shit in my wounds

I think you missed about not enjoying the taste of dogshit after have been given a good kicking.

Avatar
alexuk replied to ROOTminus1 | 2 weeks ago
1 like

Sad.

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FionaJJ replied to alexuk | 2 weeks ago
11 likes

It's worth watching the documentary still on iPlayer "Big Oil vs The World" to see just how manipulative and pernicious the oil companies are. Some aren't as bad as others, and until we make massive changes to society we're all reliant on them, so a certain amount of accommodation is required. 

BUT the British Cycling sponsorship seems to be supporting their greenwashing rather than an effort to transition away from our dependence on fossil fuels. I've seen nothing from Shell that makes me think they are serious about anything other than trying to cling to fossil fuels for as long as possible.

The article mentions 'sustainable aviation fuels', but there's no such thing.  The reality is we need to fly less, and claims about sustainable fuels is at best a deflection tactic. 

 

Avatar
wycombewheeler replied to FionaJJ | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

FionaJJ wrote:

The article mentions 'sustainable aviation fuels', but there's no such thing.  The reality is we need to fly less, and claims about sustainable fuels is at best a deflection tactic. 

I don't know if it's possible to use biofuels, but the land use required for biofuels for the entire aviation industry would be mind boggling

Avatar
stonojnr replied to wycombewheeler | 2 weeks ago
0 likes

Virgin have already flown the Atlantic with 100% sustainable av fuel. I think most airlines use a 50% bio fuel mix as a minimum now.

Avatar
ROOTminus1 replied to stonojnr | 2 weeks ago
5 likes

I think what wycombewheeler means is that at the scale required for aviation, plant-based fuel cannot be sustainable, it's just less unsustainable than crude sourced fuel.

Avatar
stonojnr replied to ROOTminus1 | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

Well 50% isn't exactly a bad number that's clearly of some sustainability because they're doing it now. It's not some lofty goal a decade away.

And I don't believe it's all plant based either, they can use animal fat, solid waste, food scraps as well.

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to stonojnr | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

stonojnr wrote:

Well 50% isn't exactly a bad number that's clearly of some sustainability because they're doing it now. It's not some lofty goal a decade away. And I don't believe it's all plant based either, they can use animal fat, solid waste, food scraps as well.

Indeed, but (pedantry) "doing it now" doesn't necessarily mean "sustainable" (like "sustainable zero emission motor transport!" doesn't actually mean those things).  It's just overall financially / reputationally good for the next 5 minutes / until the next bonus / choose your short-to-medium-term horizon.

Burning all the above-mentioned waste - while something we currently do some of - isn't entirely a win for the climate either.  (And our food wastage and increasing animal consumption is also an issue, albeit a separate one).

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Domdom1 replied to stonojnr | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

Unfortunately it's not even remotely 50%. SAF represents less than 0.1% of global jet fuel volumes and fuel standards allow for a MAXIMUM 50% SAF blend in commercial jet engines

Avatar
wycombewheeler replied to ROOTminus1 | 2 weeks ago
1 like

stonojnr wrote:

Virgin have already flown the Atlantic with 100% sustainable av fuel. I think most airlines use a 50% bio fuel mix as a minimum now.

one plane? or their entire fleet for a year? Yes a 50% mix is possible in planes used by most airlines, but that is a far cry from 50% of all aviation fuel

From wiki

In 2019 the International Energy Agency forecast SAF production should grow from 18 to 75 billion litres between 2025 and 2040, representing a 5% to 19% share of aviation fuel

ROOTminus1 wrote:

I think what wycombewheeler means is that at the scale required for aviation, plant-based fuel cannot be sustainable, it's just less unsustainable than crude sourced fuel.

Yes, coupled with pressure on food production as the global population tops out at 11bn, additional land use for fuel purposes for 350bn litres a year will not be easy.

Although, this is more positive than biofuels

Sustainable fuels can be created with renewable energy without biomaterial. Carbon can be sourced from CO
2 to make kerosene, etc. Hydrogen can be combusted or used in a fuel cell.

As of 2022, some 450,000 flights had used sustainable fuels as part of the fuel mix, although such fuels were ~3x more expensive than the traditional fossil jet fuel or kerosene

Of course this use of renewable energy is competing against the rest of the electricty demand

Avatar
dubwise replied to alexuk | 2 weeks ago
9 likes

Go and educate yourself about Shell and their activities around the world, especially in Nigeria.

They have blood on their hands.

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Domdom1 replied to alexuk | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

I'd prefer Shell spent their outrageous profits on actually cutting down their fossil fuels /emissions and switching to renewables, and not spending millions on lobbying governments against action (of which this type of sponsorship helps give them reach)... and spending more on marketing than on renewables (fact). Lots of good information out there on fossil fuel sportwashing issues to read explaining more

Avatar
ROOTminus1 | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

Wasn't very concept of analysing "sustainability" through a single oversimplified tariff based metric one of Shell's great PR coups?

Allowing people to perform the mental gymnastics whereby planting a few trees in the Sahal region (numbers planted unconfirmed, time until trees cut down/die unavailable) can somehow offset the square miles of open cast mining to harvest rare materials for batteries.
Or 20% of the same tree accounts for the oil used by a company as fuel and electricity, despite the fact its Shell pumping that oil out of the ground and then blaming their customers for the damage they're causing.

British Cycling should be doing their part, as should we all, but their MO should be aiding a national reduction in emissions be getting people out of cars (ICE or Electric) and onto bikes, not BS creative accounting with CO2e credits.

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chrisonabike replied to ROOTminus1 | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

That would all be nice, but ... I thought British Cycling is a (national level) sporting organisation? Pretty sure that those are - at best* - orthogonal to concerns like sustainability and resource utilisation?

* Setting aside the long history of association of sport with warfare (not generally associated with treading more lightly on the earth) isn't the first point of sport - especially at higher levels - a laser-focus on the objectives of the sport itself rather than stuff like how many plastic wrappers get thrown in the bin?

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stonojnr replied to chrisonabike | 2 weeks ago
1 like

Exactly that, British Cycling are the sports governing body, it's not their mo to get people out of cars at all.

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ROOTminus1 replied to stonojnr | 2 weeks ago
0 likes

Fewer people in cars -> More people on bikes -> Larger membership base -> Better funded sport

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stonojnr replied to ROOTminus1 | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

I think everyone in the UK could be members and it still wouldn't fund the sport, it's how they end up with sponsors like Shell.

And there's a long history and needle between various cycling organisations in the UK about who should do what, most do agree though British Cycling are the least able & least effective whenever they step away from the sport side into move people out of cars campaigning. Remember the no ride on the Queen's funeral instruction?

Leave British Cycling to what they're best at, sport, leave the get people out of cars stuff to other organisations who do a better job at it

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wtjs replied to stonojnr | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

Agreed! The Queen's funeral instruction demonstrates the attitudes at BC.

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ROOTminus1 replied to stonojnr | 2 weeks ago
0 likes

Oh, for sure, I support Cycling UK's efforts for changing perception towards cycling over BC's any day. (Less baggage and dubious history of PEDs for one)

I wasn't suggesting BC should have to change it's core directive, just that if sustainability is actually a concern of theirs, there are more suitable avenues to be explored which are within their supposed field of expertise of cycling.

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to ROOTminus1 | 2 weeks ago
1 like

It'd be great if they could somehow find something more closely aligned to the sport.  Or at least less malignant.

Unfortunately I think it's kinda fitting given that the "pro peleton" at some of the big events is basically a giant motor vehicle caravan, the bikes are carbon fibre and AFAIK they're not racing in merino woolens.  And (also not their fault) a large number of us "drive to the ride".

Plus as mentioned I don't think "sport" (at more than "kickabout" level) and "sustainability" are natural partners anyway.

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