Shell’s green ads banned by ASA

Shell's ads relating to renewable energy have been found by the ASA to be misleading, reminding us how difficult it is to get green claims right.

Shell was able to substantiate its green claims, however because its business activities also include on-going and expanding fossil fuel production, the ads were found to be misleading. The ASA has told Shell to ensure that its future ads featuring environmental claims do not mislead by exaggerating or, omitting material information about, the proportion of its business activities that are comprised of lower carbon activities.Shell released a poster, TV ad and YouTube video intending to raise awareness of, and demand for, their lower emissions energy products and services. They made various green claims, relating to use of their renewable energy, including wind powered energy, low-carbon choices and cleaner energy.

What’s interesting about this decision, is that Shell was able to substantiate the claims relating to use of 100% renewable energy as they had referenced the supply of electricity by the National Grid, using the correct data. However, the ASA found that the ads gave the overall impression that a significant proportion of Shell’s business comprised lower-carbon energy products.

The ASA said that Shell should have made it clear what proportion of Shell’s overall business model was made up of lower-carbon energy products. Without this information, the ads were likely to mislead the consumer as they misrepresented the contribution that lower-carbon initiatives played, or would play in the near future, as part of the overall balance of a company's activities.

This decision echoes the earlier HSBC decision: even if a company can substantiate the green claims it makes, its ad may still be misleading if it is not clear to the consumer how sustainable its business is overall. All brands need to:

  • Substantiate their green claims with appropriate data
  • Reference the source of the data in the ad itself, if it adds context needed by consumers to understand the ad
  • Ensure their ad represents the green claims made in the context of the overall balance of their activities, without exaggerating or omitting material information.

Shell’s ad was banned by the ASA, but more importantly the press has picked up on the decision. This is a very difficult area to get advertising right. It can take many years to build green credentials, which can be destroyed by a single ad, so our advice is to consider your green claims very carefully.

Full list of the claims made by Shell:

  • “In the South West 78,000 homes use 100% renewable electricity from Shell Energy”
  • “In the UK, 1.4 million households use 100% renewable electricity from Shell”
  • “Shell experts are working on a wind project that could power six million homes”
  • “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. Learn more. #PoweringProgress”
  • “BRISTOL is READY for Cleaner Energy”
  • “And with more electric car charge points coming to Shell forecourts near you, the UK is ready for Cleaner energy.”
  • “The UK is READY for Cleaner Energy”

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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