The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) UK has launched a counter ad campaign directly taking on Shell's environmental claims, and has won a fight to ban a press ad by the energy company as "greenwash", or an attempt to portray itself as a ''green'' company.
WWF's ad campaign rolls out on giant digital screens at Waterloo station in London, proclaiming its victory saying, "Shell can't hide the environmental impact of their oil sand projects".
The 20-second advertisement by the WWF accuses Shell of "greenwash", saying its press ads in the Financial Times earlier in the year suggested the Shell's Canadian oil sand extraction operation was sustainable.
WWF's ad claims that Shell's operation releases three times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil production. The ad has been created by the agency Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw. The copy is interspersed with images of stripped mining landscape in Canada.
WWF had filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about Shell's national press advertisement from February 2008, which opened with the headline "We invest today's profits in tomorrow's solutions".
In the ad, Shell talks about the need to invest in technology to "continue to secure a profitable and sustainable future". The ad also talked about the race to find more energy to fuel global demand, which necessitated a need to "find new ways of managing carbon emissions to limit climate change".
Shell's ad gives examples such as the company having built the biggest refinery in the US, "exploring a new generation of bio fuels", and unlocking "the potential of the vast Canadian oil sands deposit".
In its complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, WWF said that Shell's Canadian oil sand operations for building the biggest US refinery did not help provide a sustainable future or sustainable energy production. Moreover, the building of the biggest US refinery was actually an expanded redevelopment of an existing facility at Port Arthur, Texas.
Shell argued that the aim of its February ad was to highlight the company's investments in technology that would help in meeting the global energy challenge in a responsible way. The ad ran concurrently to the publishing of its 2007 final quarter financial results, and Shell said being a one-off advertisement, the ad would not be repeated.
Shell said the concept of sustainable development was introduced in 1987 in a report by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), which had defined the term as "development which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".
The ASA said the use of the word "sustainable" throughout the ad was defined as "primarily in environmental terms".
Since Shell had not provided evidence of "effectively" managing carbon emissions from its oil sands projects "in order to limit climate change", the ASA deemed the ad as misleading.
The ASA said that Shell failed to produce data to back up its claims of controlling carbon emissions at oil sands sites to help reduce climate change, and therefore the ad was misleading in nature.
Arriving at the same conclusion about Shell's claims about the redevelopment of the Port Arthur oil refinery, the ASA accepted claims that Shel's US Port Arthur plant had reduced emissions, but also added that expansion of the plant's facilities would now contribute to total emissions, and not reduce them.
WWF UK's 20-second will run every six minutes on the 48-sheet transvision digital screen, and will be supported by content on WWF's website.