The ASA turned up the heat last week in upholding three rulings against the adverts from three major oil giants for making unsubstantiated climate-related claims.
Starting with the biggest oil giant of them all, Shell UK Ltd found itself in tango with the ASA, followed by Petronas and Repsol. See below for a summary of the rulings.
What was the issue?
A significant portion of Shell’s business activities include fossil fuel production as such Adfree Cities challenged whether:
The ASA’s Decision:
A TV ad started with a voiceover of a child saying “Our story began with a dream, to see if we could take on an industry. It wasn’t easy, but slowly, good began to happen.” Scenes of traffic followed along with a port full of shipping containers, broken ice floating on the sea, litter in a river and a forest fire. The voice-over continued “But as the world produced more energy it became nature’s problem, and we were part of it. An answer was needed so we started connecting the dots, to become a progressive energy and solutions partner, enriching lives for a sustainable future.” The Ad then cut to solar panels, children in classrooms, a well and a recycling factory with the voice-over “To reduce emissions, grow renewable energy, bring education to more, champion social impact and promote a circular economy, as well as achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050”. The video ended with “Let’s connect the dots together and create a more sustainable future for all so that our next generation will always have something to look forward to” and a child was shown looking out into the distance.
What was the issue?
The ASA challenged whether the Ad exaggerated the total environmental benefit of Petronas’ products and services and therefore was misleading.
The CAP Code states that the basis of environmental claims must be clear, and claims could mislead if material information is omitted.
Petronas was found to have breached the Code by making claims that implied Petronas were now primarily focused on positive environmental activities which were already having a positive overall immediate impact and would lead to net zero by 2050, when in fact their current activities and recent greenhouse gas emissions contradicted this. Furthermore, the presentation of Petronas’ steps to reduce emissions in the Ad came across as claims that were beyond aspirational and therefore needed to be justified.
A paid-for online newspaper ad featured images of leaves and the text “At Repsol, we are developing biofuels and synthetic fuels to achieve net zero emissions”. An image of a car parked in a wooded area was featured with the text “Renewable fuels for more sustainable mobility”. In the corner of the ad was a petrol pump icon with a leaf inside.
What was the issue?
Adfree Cities challenged whether the Ad was misleading because it omitted significant information about the overall impact of Repsol’s business activities which involved substantial fossil fuel production.
The ASA challenged whether the basis of the claim that Repsol was developing biofuels and synthetic fuels to achieve net zero emissions was clear.
Repsol was found to have breached the Code by omitting details of how Repsol planned to achieve net zero. Furthermore, the claims made were likely to be taken to mean that the biofuel and synthetic fuel developments formed a significant part of Repsol’s current activities and progress towards net zero emissions.
Even though Repsol contributed to clean energy and were reducing their emissions, they still continue to have a significant part of their business focussed on oil and gas. Therefore, the focus placed in the Ad on biofuels and synthetic fuels to achieve net zero emissions is comparatively only a fraction of their business, this would likely mislead consumers.
Further information in the Ad itself would have been material to a consumer’s understanding of the ad’s message as to how Repsol would achieve net zero emissions and the role of biofuels and as such should have been included.
Even though Repsol aimed to increase investments in biofuels and synthetic fuels, they did not only accept investment opportunities based on carbon reducing activities. Whilst renewable fuels could contribute towards Repsol’s goal of achieving net zero emissions, they would not act as a single measure to do so.
In the absence of any contextual information explaining that the initiative was part of a wider plan to achieve net zero by 2050, the ASA concluded that the basis of the claim “At Repsol, we are developing biofuels and synthetic fuels to achieve net zero emissions” was not clear and it was likely to mislead as a result.