The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against advertising by fossil fuel giant Shell brought by the activist network Adfree Cities.
The group complained to the ASA that a number of online and offline adverts from Shell gave the misleading impression that the company provided more clean energy as a proportion of its energy output than it does in reality.
Although the ads were for Shell’s renewable energy arm, Shell Energy, the ads used the Shell logo, and the ASA concluded that “we did not consider that consumers would draw a distinction between “Shell” and “Shell Energy”, particularly because Shell was a brand well known for its energy products in a more general sense.”
This lack of distinction meant that “consumers would interpret the ad as making a broader claim about Shell as a whole providing cleaner energy,” the ASA said.
The ASA concluded that “the overall impression of the ad was that low-carbon energy products comprised a significant proportion of the energy products Shell invested in and sold in the UK in 2022, or were likely to do so in the near future.”
However, the ASA went on, “according to Shell’s 2021 Sustainability Report, Shell’s operations gave rise to greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 that were estimated as equivalent to 1375 million tonnes of carbon dioxide… We understood that large-scale oil and gas investment and extraction comprised the vast majority of the company’s business model in 2022 and would continue to do so in the near future.”
SUCCESS! Shell’s ads have been officially banned after our #greenwashing complaint🔥— Adfree Cities (@adfreecities) June 7, 2023
Shell & big oil “will not be permitted to advertise that they are ‘green’ while they build new pipelines, refineries and rigs – but this doesn’t go far enough.” https://t.co/WpO9sHKWCn
The ASA has banned the adverts in question and warned Shell that they should not exaggerate how much of their business is engaged in low carbon energy production.
Adfree Cities hailed their successful complaint, saying “This ruling will set a precedent for other energy companies, meaning that the likes of Shell, BP and ExxonMobil will not be able to use this common, and extremely damaging, greenwashing tactic in their marketing in future.”
A spokesperson for Shell said, “We strongly disagree with the ASA’s decision, which could slow the UK’s drive towards renewable energy. People are already well aware that Shell produces the oil and gas they depend on today. When customers fill up at our petrol stations across the UK, it’s under the instantly recognisable Shell logo.
“But what many people don’t know is we’re also investing heavily in low- and zero-carbon energy, including building one of the UK’s largest public networks of EV charge points. No energy transition can be successful if people are not aware of the alternatives available to them. That is what our adverts set out to show, and that is why we’re concerned by this short-sighted decision,” the company said.