News Analysis by Institute of Sustainability Studies.
Shell, the global group of energy and petrochemical companies, has come under fire for an ad campaign that promoted the company’s green initiatives. The ad campaign was banned for not reflecting that a majority of the business is based on environmentally damaging fossil fuels like petrol.
They ran a TV, YouTube, and poster campaign pushing renewable electricity, car charging points, and wind initiatives. One of the ads read, “From electric vehicle charging to renewable electricity for your home, Shell is giving customers more low-carbon choices and helping drive the UK’s energy transition. The UK is ready for cleaner energy.”
The Anglo-Dutch oil company has shared its goals to become a net zero-carbon energy business by 2050. However, it has also announced it will continue to grow its gas business by over 20 per cent over the next five years. Green campaigners worry that whilst Shell has set a climate strategy, it may still increase its emissions in the coming decade.
Why was the ad banned in the UK?
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated the Shell ad after campaigning group Adfree Cities made a complaint.
ASA is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media, adopting the Advertising Codes created by the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP).
Over the past number of years, they have been increasingly focused on environment-related advertising issues and cracking down on advertisements that include misleading environmental claims and social responsibility.
The advertising authority has also banned ads in the UK by Spanish oil company Repsol and Malaysia’s Petronas for not offering complete information on their carbon reduction strategies and activities.
In 2022, the authority banned other “misleading” ads, such as Tesco's plant-based burger ad, a Persil advert, and two HSBC adverts.
How did Shell respond to the ads being banned?
In response to the ad being banned, Shell spoke out, stating that the goal of the ads was to raise awareness of the variety of lower-emission energy products it offers.
They also said that mentioning high-carbon Shell products in the ads would have been counterproductive and would have diluted the impact of the ads’ positive sustainability message.
Shell defended their claims and critised the decision to ban their ad. Image: Photographic Services, Shell International Limited
The ad being banned resulted in the energy company criticising the ASA’s decision.
They said the decision to ban their ads was shortsighted and that the decision would risk slowing the UK’s desire to switch to renewable energy.
Additionally, Shell claimed that people are aware that the company produces gas and oil they depend on today because when they fill up at their petrol stations across the UK, it is under the very recognisable Shell logo.
The ASA responded that although most consumers associate Shell with energy products derived from fossil fuels, they are also aware that businesses in these sectors are trying to reduce emissions in response to the climate emergency.
hey continued by saying that advertisements like these risk misleading consumers if companies exaggerate the role that low-carbon initiatives would play in the future as part of the overall balance of an organisation’s activities.
The ads stated that 1.4 million homes in the UK are utilising 100 per cent renewable electricity from Shell and that they are fitting 50,000 electric vehicle chargers across the globe by 2025 and are working on wind electricity, which will power 6 million homes.
ASA ruled that the nature of the ads gave the impression that low-carbon energy products comprised a significant portion of the energy products Shell invested in and sold in the UK last year or were likely to do so in the future.
While Shell claims it had good intentions in sharing the available alternatives, the ASA cited Shell’s 2021 Sustainability Report, revealing that its operations produced 1,375 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Investing in wind energy is amongst Shell`s future strategic plans to provide sustainable energy sources. Image: Photographic Services, Shell International Limited
Headline image: Photographic Services, Shell International Limited