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Law students’ complaint upheld – Shell advertisements with claim ‘CO2 neutral’ are misleading

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Shell advertisements with the claim “CO2 neutral” are misleading, the Dutch Advertising Ethical Board (Reclame Code Commissie) ruled today in two cases against the oil giant. The complaints were filed by law students of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and by concerned citizen André Kodde. “We are very happy with this ruling. It confirms how misleading claims about CO2 neutrality often are, while nowadays they are thrown around all over the place”, says Xander de Vries on behalf of the students. 

The nine students of the VU Climate and Sustainability Law Clinic are supported by Reclame Fossielvrij (Fossil Free Advertising) and Greenpeace Netherlands. They object to advertisements in which Shell promises its customers to compensate the CO2 emissions of their petrol with forest conservation and tree planting for an extra 1 cent per litre.

Absolute environmental claim

The Advertising Ethical Board (non-binding self regulatory organisation) agrees with the students’ argument that Shell’s compensation measures will never even out the environmental damage of CO2. The damage of CO2 to the climate is certain, while the oil and gas multinational can never guarantee how much and how long forest conservation and planted trees retain CO2 from the air. The Advertising Ethical Board takes into account that Shell makes an absolute environmental claim without being able to substantiate this claim with verifiable and independent sources. “Companies cannot scientifically substantiate claims about CO2 compensation,” said Clemens Kaupa, associate professor of climate law at the VU and leader of the Law Clinic. “In light of this ruling, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to continue promoting such claims.” 

Claim ‘CO2 neutral’ misleading

“Fully justified that Shell is now being addressed about these false claims because their climate ambitions to a large extent lean on CO2 compensation,” says Femke Sleegers, campaign coordinator of Reclame Fossielvrij (Fossil Free Advertising). “This ruling goes beyond Shell, because many companies promise their customers that they can drive or travel CO2 neutral by planting trees. Now they are no longer allowed to say so.” 

Wool over our eyes

“The ruling puts a stop to the deception by Shell. These fossil fuel advertisements are only pulling the wool over our eyes. They disguise the fact that big polluters like Shell just continue to pollute. Instead of changing their own emissions, Shell washes their dirty image green and puts the responsibility on the consumer. That is unacceptable”, says Faiza Oulahsen, head of climate and energy at Greenpeace Netherlands.

Shell advertising on tank truck misleading

Independently of the students, consumer André Kodde objected to the Shell tank truck with the text ‘I am CO2 neutral on my way. What about you?’ In this case, the Advertising Code Committee also decided today that the text is misleading; people are misled because the cargo of the tanker (with fossil fuel) and Shell are both not “carbon neutral”. In its defence Shell had argued that the tanker was driving CO2-neutral because it was participating in the ‘1 cent’ programme. The Committee rejects that argument with a brief reference to the judgment in the students’ case.

Total ban on fossil fuel advertising

Shell must remove all these advertisements, according to the complainants. The ruling also applies to new marketing and advertisements, such as CO2-compensated gas from Shell Energy, which was launched yesterday. Reclame Fossielvrij and Greenpeace plead for a total ban on fossil advertising, like there is a ban on tobacco advertising. The municipality of Amsterdam announced earlier this year that it would ban fossil advertisements from its metro stations.

Shell-reclame met de misleidende claim CO2-neutraal

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