Watchdog bans Shell ads over ‘misleading’ low-carbon claims

ASA said Shell 'misleadingly omitted' that oil and gas made up the 'vast majority' of its business.

Advertising Standards Authority bans three Shell ads over ‘misleading’ low-carbon claims Getty Images

Three ads for Shell promoting its low-carbon products have been banned for failing to make any mention of the energy giant’s ongoing “large-scale” investment in oil and gas.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found that Shell “misleadingly omitted” information about the proportion of its business made up of lower-carbon activity when oil and gas made up the “vast majority” of its operations.

Shell said it strongly disagreed with the ASA’s decision, claiming it could slow the UK’s move towards renewable energy.

A poster carrying the Shell logo, seen in Bristol last June, featured large text stating: “Bristol is Ready for Cleaner Energy,” and: “In the South West 78,000 homes use 100% renewable electricity from Shell Energy.”

A TV ad, also seen last June, said 1.4 million households in the UK used 100% renewable electricity from Shell, and also mentioned that the firm was working on a wind project that could power six million homes and aimed to fit 50,000 electric car chargers nationwide by 2025.

A video on Shell’s YouTube channel was captioned: “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.”

Shell's YouTube advert promoting its low-carbon products banned for failing to make any mention of the energy giant's ongoing

Adfree Cities complained that the ads misled consumers by omitting significant information about the overall environmental impact of Shell’s business activities in 2022.

Shell UK said it wanted the ads to raise consumer awareness about its range of lower emissions energy products and increase demand for them.

It cited research suggesting that 83% of consumers primarily associated the brand with the sale of petrol, arguing they would be “unlikely to assume that the ads’ content covered the full range of its business activities”.

The ASA acknowledged that many consumers would closely associate Shell with petrol sales, and more broadly understand that the company was involved in oil and gas investment and extraction.

But it said they would also be aware that many companies in carbon-intensive industries, including the oil and gas sector, aimed to dramatically reduce their emissions in response to the climate crisis.

The ASA noted that Shell’s operations gave rise to greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 that were estimated as equivalent to 1,375 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The ASA said: “While that estimate did not capture Shell’s absolute emissions in 2021, given that it included deductions linked to carbon offsets and did not cover certain commercial contracts, it nonetheless represented a large contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

“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.

“We therefore considered that, because (the ads) gave the overall impression that a significant proportion of Shell’s business comprised lower-carbon energy products, further information about the proportion of Shell’s overall business model that comprised lower-carbon energy products was material information that should have been included.

“Because the ads did not include such information, we concluded that they omitted material information and were likely to mislead.”

It ruled that the ads must not appear again.

A Shell spokesman 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.”

Veronica Wignall, from Adfree Cities, said: “Today’s official ban on Shell’s adverts marks the end of the line for fossil fuel greenwashing in the UK.

“The world’s biggest polluters 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. Shell and other fossil fuel expanders should not be permitted to advertise at all owing to their historic and ongoing role in wrecking the planet.

“We need robust legislation to stop fossil fuel advertising but we also need UK advertising agencies to stop enabling clients like Shell that are not only on the wrong side of history but a source of growing regulatory and reputational risk.”

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