Shell rebuked for 'greenwash' over ad for polluting oil project

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The Anglo-Dutch energy giant Shell misled the public about the green credentials of a vastly polluting oil project in Canada, in an attempt to assure consumers of its good environmental record, a media watchdog will rule today.

In an embarrassing rejection of Shell's "greenwash", the Advertising Standards Authority said the company should not have used the word "sustainable" for its controversial tar sands project and a second scheme to build North America's biggest oil refinery. Both projects would lead to the emission of more greenhouse gases, the ASA said, ruling the advert had breached rules on substantiation, truthfulness and environmental claims.

Carried by the Financial Times on 1 February to accompany Shell's financial results, the company claimed: "We invest today's profits in tomorrow's solutions."

The advert continued: "A growing world needs more energy, but at the same time we need to find new ways of managing carbon emissions to limit climate change. Continued investment in technology is one of the key ways we are able to address this challenge, and continue to secure a profitable and sustainable future."

Shell explained it was harnessing its technical expertise "to unlock the potential of the vast Canadian oil sands deposits".

The WWF (formerly the Worldwide Fund for Nature) complained that extracting low-grade bitumen from sand was highly inefficient and destroyed huge tracts of virgin forest. In its defence, Shell maintained that new technology was reducing pollution from the Athabasca Oil Sands Project in Alberta in which it owns a 60 per cent stake.

Shell quoted a critical WWF report as rating its Muskeg River Mine one of the least damaging coal-tar sands projects because it sought to limit emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and organic compounds.

Making its ruling, the ASA quoted Canada's independent National Energy Board that oil sand developments had considerable social and economic impacts on water conservation, greenhouse gas emissions, land disturbance and waste management.

David Norman, the WWF's director of campaigns, said: "The ASA's decision to uphold WWF's complaint sends a strong signal to business and industry that greenwash is unacceptable."

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