Dutch ad watchdog tells Shell to pull ‘carbon neutral’ campaign

The Netherlands’ advertising watchdog ruled that a Royal Dutch Shell plc advertising campaign that said customers can offset the carbon emissions from their fuel purchases is misleading.

Shell offers customers the option of paying extra for fuel, such as gasoline, saying it will use the proceeds to plant trees and re-absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The Advertising Code Committee agreed with a complaint from a group of nine law students who said the company could not prove it is fully offsetting the emissions, according to a statement. 

Shell has two weeks to appeal the decision, which is not legally binding, after which the committee will publish a final ruling. 

“Shell takes its responsibilities as an advertiser extremely seriously,” said a spokesperson for the company. “Shell’s ‘Drive CO2 Neutral’ program is a genuine and important initiative to give consumers the option to offset CO2-emissions associated with the fuel they purchase.”

The students, from the Free University in Amsterdam, argued that Shell’s commercial is misleading because it gives the impression that customers can achieve carbon-neutral driving by paying only 1 extra euro cent ($0.012) per liter of gasoline. 

Shell said its advertising is backed by research, which was acknowledged by the committee. The company will “study the ruling in detail and consider any necessary changes to communications,” according to the spokesperson.

Shell has come under increasing pressure over its role in climate change. In May, a Dutch court ordered the company to cut its carbon emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, a much faster pace than it had planned. 

The credibility of carbon-offsets is crucial for Shell. A big part of the energy giant’s pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 relies on planting trees, reforesting and restoring land. 

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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