On September 15, 2021, the Dutch Advertising Code Committee (“ACC”), regulating compliance with the Dutch Environmental Advertising Code (“EAC”) applicable to all environmental claims in advertising, issued two decisions regarding the Shell “Drive CO2” campaign. neutral ”. , following complaints from consumers and students.
In the first decision (2021/00180), the complaint concerned an advertisement on a Shell oil tanker stating: “I deliver CO2 neutral products, too?” », Accompanied by an image of a tropical forest. The plaintiff argued that Shell created the false impression of delivering fuel in a CO2 neutral manner, whereas the mere act of transporting fuel in order to sell it to customers contributes to the increase in carbon dioxide emissions. . The plaintiff also objected to the depiction of the rainforest in the advertisement, as it would have wrongly suggested that Shell was contributing to the preservation of the rainforest.
In its decision, the ACC considered that advertising can be understood in different ways, which contributed to its misleading nature. The campaign could be understood to mean either that Shell trucks carry sustainable fuel or that Shell is a CO2 neutral company. According to the ACC, consumers could easily be misled by this, as the focus (partly because of the image of the rainforest) is on ‘CO2 neutral’, while the cargo (fossil fuel) is definitely not CO2 neutral, neither is the Shell company itself (yet). The CCA therefore concluded that the advertisement violated the EAC and recommended that Shell stop such advertising.
In the second decision (2021/00190), the complaint involved several expressions made by Shell as part of the campaign, including: “It is important to reduce CO2 emissions as much as possible. You can’t do it? So with Shell you can take care of environment by driving CO2 neutral “and suggesting that by paying a penny more per liter of fuel, customers can offset the corresponding CO2 emissions. According to the plaintiffs, Shell has falsely claimed that CO2 emissions can be offset or neutralized, arguing that it is scientifically certain that the production and use of fossil fuels releases measurable CO2 emissions that continuously enter the fuel cycle. carbon of the planet.
In its decision, the ACC ruled that Shell’s environmental claims were too precise and that the average consumer would understand terms such as “neutralize” to encompass full compensation for the harmful effect of CO2 emissions on the environment. According to the ACC, Shell has not demonstrated how paying a penny more per liter of fuel purchased would allow such neutralization. CCA therefore concluded that the advertisement violated the EAC and recommended that Shell stop advertising in this manner.
These two decisions illustrate the growing regulatory interest and scrutiny of greenwashing and reflect growing civil society concerns about climate change. Oil majors and other industrialists appear to be under close scrutiny by advertising regulators across the European Union. Caution is therefore advised when using absolute statements, phrases or claims. Expressions such as “CO2 neutral”, “Full CO2 offset” or anything comparable should be avoided, unless they are based on solid, independent, verifiable and widely accepted evidence.