How Greenpeace investigators expose environmental crimes

Every year Greenpeace investigators expose the environmental scandals companies and governments want to hide. Dean Plant, our head of investigations, shares five moments when they made all the difference.


Greenpeace investigations are a catalyst. They’re a vital way to expose environmental crimes and provide the evidence and intelligence we need to build campaigns, lobby politicians and take peaceful direct action.

We’re a very small team – I’m the only full-time investigator, working with brilliant freelance researchers, journalists and tech experts worldwide. But we use every tool we possibly can to shine a light on environmental destruction.

Using satellite services, we monitor places that otherwise stay out of sight. Using drones, trackers and covert cameras, we check out areas where we suspect our planet is at risk and plan our next moves. With subscriptions to ship-tracking databases and media outlets, we follow commodities like soya, timber, crude oil and gas, so we can expose the companies that damage our planet and hold them to account.

We’re only able to work in all these ways (and plenty more) because of Greenpeace supporters like you. And, as you can see from these examples, it gets results.

The secret that helped Save the Arctic

Back in 2015, our investigative skills played a big part as Shell dropped its plan to drill in the Alaskan Arctic. By placing a covert monitoring system inside Shell’s fleet in Alaska, we learned that a vital piece of drilling equipment was onboard an icebreaker that needed to dock for repairs in Portland, Oregon.

Activists in climbing gear hang from a giant river bridge. Huge red and yellow flags attached to their ropes fly proudly in the wind.

Using intel gathered by our investigators, Greenpeace activists were able to block Shell's drilling equipment from getting to the Arctic © Steve Dipaola / Greenpeace

Once it docked, Greenpeace climbers rappelled off Portland’s St John’s Bridge, blocking the ship’s path and successfully delaying its return to Alaska.

Other investigations helped us file legal challenges against Shell and led LEGO to end its corporate partnership with the oil giant. The pressure told, and Shell eventually walked away from the Alaskan Arctic.

The GPS trackers that exposed Amazon smuggling

Greenpeace investigators spent two months in the Amazon in 2014, carefully placing GPS trackers on illegal logging vehicles. The trackers showed – to the whole world – that trucks were driving deep into the forest by day, then returning with stolen timber at night.

GPS trackers planted on logging vehicles allowed us to prove to the world that they were illegally stealing timber from Indigenous lands. © Christian Braga / Greenpeace

We then checked government records and used satellite analysis, confirming that false records were being created to launder illegal logs. Investigations like this show forest destroyers they can’t act with impunity – and force governments to increase scrutiny.

The sting that reached the US congress

We often join forces with the team at Unearthed – Greenpeace’s award-winning journalism project – to great effect. In 2021, a journalist went undercover to expose ExxonMobil’s efforts to undermine climate action in the US.

Compilation of screenshots from Unearthed's website

Following three years of work, the journalist, posing as a headhunter, prompted senior Washington lobbyists to reveal on camera that ExxonMobil has aggressively fought against climate legislation.

The story exploded and eventually led to a Congressional hearing into climate information in the oil industry. As I said earlier, investigations are a catalyst.

The pursuit that stretched across continents

For three months in 2018, we tracked a giant drill – due to be used in a devastating tar sands oil pipeline – from Germany to a holding facility in Vancouver, Canada. Once it arrived, Greenpeace campaigners attached themselves to the drill, stopping it from being used.

Greenpeace ship in action as it crashes through the ocean towards a structure in the distance.

The Greenpeace ship Esperanza tracked a giant drill being shipped from Europe to a tar sands operation in Canada. © Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace

It was one of many ways we protested alongside Indigenous communities to prevent this environmental disaster, and it worked. Kinder Morgan, the company behind the pipeline, eventually ditched the project.

The turning point for illegal plastic waste

In another of Unearthed’s most impactful investigations, in 2018 journalists focused attention on plastic waste being dumped illegally in Malaysia. Our investigators found massive amounts of British plastics strewn in an area where rubbish is routinely burned, wrecking the environment and human health.

Greenpeace expert Dr Iryna Labunska examines water and soil samples from Malaysian plastic dumpsites at the Greenpeace Research Lab in Exeter. © Alex Stoneman / Greenpeace

Our reports made headlines worldwide, and the Malaysian government responded. With ministers refusing to let the country become ‘the garbage dump of the world’, Malaysia began returning shipping containers of illegally imported plastic waste to the UK.

Help expose environmental crimes

Please donate today so our investigators can use every tool at their disposal to expose more hidden truths and inspire unstoppable actions and lobbying.

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