Dutch ads watchdog bites into Shell’s ‘carbon offsets’ campaign


The Netherlands’ regulatory body for advertising has asked Royal Dutch Shell to withdraw its consumer promotion promising ‘carbon neutrality’ to drivers who pay extra at the pumps to take part in its offsets scheme.

The oil giant’s ‘Drive CO2 Neutral’ campaign has run in the UK as well as Holland.

For an optional extra fee, motorists are offered the chance to back Shell’s drive to plant trees and purchase associated carbon credits, said to cancel out the environmental harm caused by each transaction.

Nine law students at Amsterdam’s Free University alleged ‘greenwashing’ by against the oil leviathan, and put their names to a complaint asking how stimulating hydrocarbon purchases could benefit the environment.

The fledgling legal eagles argued the ads implied that the offsetting would be equivalent to the emissions generated by burning the fuel in their vehicles.  This was implausible, the complainants argued, given the top-up’s low cost to participants, set by Shell at a mere one Euro cent per litre of fuel purchased.

Adjudicating last week, the Netherlands’ Advertising Code Foundation – the Stichting Reclame Code – agreed, and ordered the oil giant to withdraw the campaign.  It gave Shell two weeks to appeal against its non-binding ruling.   The company has yet to comment.

In July last year, Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled against a near-identical campaign.

Shell UK claimed its radio-based “Drive Carbon Neutral” promotion was an extension of its loyalty-building ‘Shell Go+’ proposition launched in 2019, and based on commissioned research into consumers’ ideas of carbon neutrality.

According to the company, the campaign was designed to measure at the pump the carbon content of every purchase on a ‘well-to-wheel’ basis.  Motorists were then offered a chance to purchase additional carbon offsets to compensate for each purchase’s environmental damage.

But the UK ads body upheld complaints from 17 objectors, ruling its message was misleading and breached two ASA clauses related to environmental claims.

This latest non-judicial ruling in the Netherlands comes after a district court in The Hague ruled in May in favour 17,000 signatories on a petition organised by Friends of the Earth.

The judge ruled Shell’s stated goal of reducing by 20% the carbon intensity of products before 2030 is not aligned with the UK or EU’s net-zero goal for 2050, as it could technically see Shell pushing for growth.   Shell confirmed last week its intention to  appeal.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here