Dutch Advertising Watchdog Finds Shell Guilty of Greenwashing

Image: Old White Truck from USA via Wikimedia Commons

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

A new ad campaign from Royal Dutch Shell Plc boasted that customers could offset carbon emissions from the gas they buy — if the customer pays extra for gas, Shell advertised that they would use this money to plant trees and re-absorb carbon from the atmosphere. The problem? The Netherland’s Advertising Code committee deemed this ad misleading. They ruled that the company could not prove that it is fully offsetting the emissions it claims to. 


Why This Matters: A recent Deloitte survey found that climate change was the No. 1 concern for Gen Z. Moreover, in a 2020 report by First Insight, 73% of Gen Z consumers surveyed said they were willing to pay more for sustainable products. Gen Z has a collective spending power of almost $140 billion, making it particularly attractive for companies to cater to their interests.

However, this can result in “greenwashing,” which occurs when companies mislead consumers to seem more environmentally friendly than they genuinely are. This is particularly harmful with Shell, which has come under fire for contributing to climate change. In May, a Dutch court ordered the company to cut its carbon emissions by 45% over the next decade, and the company vowed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.


Going Green(washing)?

The Free University of Amsterdam law students who initially submitted the complaint to the Advertising Code argued that the campaign gives customers the false impression that they can entirely offset their gas carbon emissions by paying only one extra euro cent ($0.012) per liter of gasoline. The committee agreed that Shell was unable to prove that the program fully offset emissions.

However, Shell says that the claims are backed by research. A spokesperson for the company said: “Shell takes its responsibilities as an advertiser extremely seriously. 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.” Although the company has two weeks to appeal the decision before it is finalized, the ruling puts extra pressure on the company, which has staked its net-zero emissions goals on planting trees, reforestation, and restoration.

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