Greenpeace has been documenting Shell’s greenwash for years, including false claims about capturing CO2 emissions and misinforming consumers about tar sands. But since BP’s oil disaster, Shell has embarked on a huge, new ad campaign bigger than its previous misleading efforts.
Shell’s “Let’s Go” campaign played out over the summer as BP’s oil was gushing and all other oil companies were trying to keep a low profile. In contrast to BP’s “Making This Right” ads, Shell was making a name for itself as a company that was thinking about the future and working tirelessly to be responsible, reduce emissions and improve efficiency.
Despite the green and secure picture Shell was painting, the company meanwhile was fighting long and hard to open up new, riskier territory to oil drilling. Shell’s the largest leaseholder in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the coast of Alaska and has spent billions working to open up these areas to offshore drilling.
Last week, Shell amplified its campaign efforts, launching a new, aggressive phase about drilling in the Arctic.
The New York Times called this what it is, “a public lobby campaign” aimed at pressuring the Interior Department to grant final approval for its Arctic drilling projects. According to the Times, the company is placing ads for the rest of the month in “national newspapers, liberal and conservative political magazines and media focused on Congress”.
In the ads, Shell claims to have emergency oil-spill response plans better than BP’s, including a “sub-sea containment system” and a response vessel on standby to drill a relief well. Just suppose this system did work in the spring or summer, what happens when the weather turns and the water freezes? In the remote waters of Alaska's coast, harsh weather and icy waters are the norm, the risk of blowouts is higher and response capacity smaller than in the Gulf of Mexico, and oil spill “clean up” is impossible.
Regulators should be skeptical of any response plans Shell submits. During Congressional oil spill hearings last summer, Rep. Ed Markey exposed that Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips had emergency oil-spill response plans written by the same company and nearly identical to BP’s. The plans included information on protecting walruses in the Gulf of Mexico (even though they live in the Arctic) and the name and phone number of a scientist who died years earlier as a go-to expert in the event of a spill.
The public shouldn’t be fooled by Shell’s new ad campaign and neither should the Interior Department. Shell’s legacy of misstatements provides reason to be skeptical.
Last week, we wrote about Shell’s latest greenwashing campaign that is to be centered upon the idea of passing energy to the next generation and particularly the slogan “Let’s Go.” Two commercials and a print ad have emerged so far featuring this phrase.
It has shown up in newspapers, magazines and on national television…and now in a metro station in the Washington, D.C. area.
While walking through the Braddock Metro Station in Alexandria, V.A., Kert Davies, Director of Research at Greenpeace, saw the same slogan on this ad in the station.
It is a simple advertisement and in fact, the shell logo is so small, it would be hard to recognize on first glance. The greenwashing message reads, “Lets build a better energy future. Let’s go.”
Advertising in the metro stations of the D.C. area is high priced real estate for any company; not only because of the thousands of people that will pass it every day, but because of whom those people might be. D.C. is an area for policy makers, movers and shakers. Shell probably wants them to think they actually care about a clean energy future.
Instead, hopefully everyone looks past the big, bold letters of his greenwashing message to the small Shell logo in the corner and realizes the history of this company and why those words shouldn’t be trusted.
Shell has a new, somewhat perplexing, greenwashing campaign. Both television and print advertisements in this new campaign now star Japanese children and families. The print ad, which we know has shown up in both newspapers and magazines, includes several Japanese children playing with balloons in what looks like a traditional Japanese home. The text of the ad includes the phrases “Let’s pass energy on to the next generation” and “The Yoshida children have a lot of energy. But the country they’re growing up in doesn’t."
The television ad that accompanies the print one features a young Japanese boy playing his electric guitar loud and his father coming upstairs to unplug the guitar from the wall.
The message of the ad is that Shell is supplying the energy needed for the child to play his guitar, when is father allows.
Both of these ad’s feature the slogan “Lets go,” which is tied to their greenwashing message of promoting a “better energy future.”
Both of these ads are not only examples of greenwash, because of the fact that an oil company like Shell is behind the message, but they are also simply strange in their target audience choice and featured characters. Why Japan?
Perhaps it’s the long history Shell has in the country. Marcus Samuel and the Samuel Company, a part of the group that eventually formed Royal Dutch Shell, has been operating in Japan since 1900. Since then, the company has formed several oil businesses in the country, including Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K., Shell Gas & Power Japan Ltd., Shell Chemicals Japan Ltd., and Shell Global Solutions Japan Ltd.
Japan is a key market for Shell. The country is the world’s largest market for Liquefied Natural Gas or LNG, which shell involves itself in heavily. Additionally, the company works in coal gasification projects in Japan, pulling synthetic gas from petroleum coke, a solid generated from the oil refinery process.
Shell has been significantly benefiting from Japan’s resources for over a century. So why not use the children of the country as the stars in ads that get distributed across the world? I suppose that’s not a crime. But still, the message that Shell cares about the energy future for these children is somewhat skewed, considering their everyday practices in the country and across the world. Shell is an oil company and gets the majority of its money from drilling and exploring for oil. And as long as they are continuing to support those activities, the company won’t be promoting a safe, clean energy future for children in any part of the world.>
If a meat-eater were to hold a vegetarian’s conference, would it make them a vegetarian? If an oil company holds an event promoting alternative energy methods, does it make them an eco-friendly company?
The action might improve their image to those who don’t know much about them, but they don’t fool everyone. An oil company is an oil company. Their income comes from an unsustainable and environmentally damaging source.
So why would they be promoting an event that awards people for using less fuel?
Because they are attempting to paint themselves “green.” Because the company spends a lot of money and time trying to brand itself as caring about the environment and alternative energy. They are bold and experienced greenwashers.
For the last 25 years, Shell has been holding an event called the Shell Eco-Marathon. The oil company created the event to challenge high school and college students to design and build energy efficient vehicles. According to the Eco-Marathon web site, Shell is the organizer of this event because the company is “committed to help promoting efficient energy use, addressing environmental concerns linked to the use of fossil fuels, understanding current patterns of consumption and exploring alternative energies.”
But it’s hard to take this “commitment” seriously.
Not only have they been responsible for both drilling and causing oil spills across the world for years, but also they don’t have any kind of history of being committed to the renewable sector. In April 2009, Shell backed out of it’s initiative to invest in renewable energy possibilities, stating that they are not “economic.” In 2008, the company also backed out of a wind farm project in the Thames Estuary of London.
While the actual Eco-Marathon itself is certainly an act of greenwash, as is the publicity surrounding it.
Last month in the Washington Post, the company ran this half page advertisement promoting the Eco-Marathon. The picture shows an odd, futuristic-looking vehicle that is blurred, probably to make it look fast and powerful. I assume it is one of the entries to this year’s Eco-Marathon. The Web site shows similar looking vehicles.
The competition has two categories: the Prototype and Urban Concept. The Prototype category calls for contestants to develop the most fuel efficient, aerodynamic vehicle possible, while the Urban Concept asks that the most fuel-efficient solutions be developed, while also meeting the criteria for traditional cars on the road today.
There’s no doubting that the Web site makes this event look like a creative way to promote fuel efficiency. But it’s important to remember where the main focus of this company lies; where the money comes from to present the winners of this event with grand prizes (which include trophies and prize money). I assure you it’s at a higher cost than the zeros past the dollar sign.
Shell has spilled tons of oil in Nigeria, not only polluting the environment of the region, but displacing and threatening the indigenous Ogoni people of the country. They are also one of the forerunners of oil drilling in the Arctic.
It’s important that Shell is recognized for the things that truly characterize them; not for the things that they spend money publicizing themselves as.
When I opened nytimes.com last week, I thought that I was on the wrong site. The page I had known with everyday (as it is my homepage) was suddenly foreign to me. At 7 a.m., this threw me. I sat back for a second, wondering what I was looking at; wondering why it wasn’t familiar.
Instead of headlines and a usually captivating example of photojournalism, the New York Times masthead was sandwiched between the Shell logo on one side and the words “A new energy future is dawning. The world will be on the road to sustainable mobility” on the other. Below was a giant, interactive advertisement with a timeline showing energy milestones throughout history. Below the timeline it says, “A new energy future is dawning. The world will be on the road to sustainable mobility.”
The ad is literally so large that no news stories or their headlines can be seen without scrolling down. It is so dominating that it seems like a parodied version of the New York Times site; almost a joke on the “power” of advertising. For a second, I thought that Shell might have actually purchased the newspaper overnight.
But the bigger joke is that Shell is the one sponsoring this monstrosity; that the company that drills for oil across the world is probably paying for this “sustainable energy” ad with money tied to fossil fuels. Both the price tag of New York Times advertising as well as the costs to the environment to get the money for this advertisement is high.
Although this example is an extreme one, Shell has a history of this behavior. In fact, on SourceWatch, Shell and greenwashing is the first category under a search of the company. They have greenwashed in both UK and American media. In 2008, they were found guilty by the British Advertising Standards Authority for false advertising concerning their operations in the tar sands.
At the top of the most recent advertisement on the New York Times, the company wrote, “Long-term energy demand will continue to soar. Shell is pushing the frontiers of energy exploration and squeezing more from existing resources to unlock new energy for the future.”
It is true. They are “squeezing” and depleting resources every day that they drill across the world, while also taking a risk at the expense of the environment. They are pushing it. They are willing to take risks like drilling in deep water (Shell currently owns The Perdido Spar, the deepest oil rig in the world, located in the Gulf of Mexico) and they are well known for operating unsafe wells and causing oil spills in Nigeria.
But they certainly aren’t exploring for new or sustainable energy. They are exploring for what the company has always made profit from: oil.
Lately, a significant amount of news on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has centered upon the giant, underwater plumes of oil currently being investigated by both scientists and journalists.
ABC News has referred to the plumes as “islands” in a frightening video showing evidence that the oil has reached significant depths.
The thought that the oil could at one point be soaked up along the surface with booms made of hair is now a hopeless wish that existed long ago. But it’s clear that the oil will reach many more creatures and ecosystems than originally thought.
One of the environments currently being threatened is the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Texas and Louisiana. The underwater oil “islands” threaten the bountiful life that currently exists in the region and the possibility that it will ever be the same again.
See here for more information on the oil spill’s effects on this area.
However, when researching this marine sanctuary, we also discovered that it was also once the focus of a major greenwashing scheme headed by Shell Oil Company.
At a time when the fate of this federally protected area is so vulnerable and at risk of being altered forever by oil, Greenpeace felt it necessary to shed light on the ironic fact that Shell has used the place to brand its own image as green and actually caring about the environment.
The oil company ran a full-page print advertisement in National Geographic Magazine and several other publications, which featured a color picture of a diver swimming through deep blue water featuring brightly colored fish and coral. The statement in the middle of the ad says: “What do we really need in today’s energy hungry world? More gardeners.”
More gardeners? If that’s really what we needed, we could just stop drilling for oil all together right? All we need is more gardeners.
But Shell doesn’t really mean that at all.
They know that in today’s energy hungry world, oil is the food and the company’s main priority. Even through the thickest green glasses, few are going to dispute that fact.
The rest of the text on the advertisement reads that a Shell employee and marine biologist has been working with the company to protect the area.
But how much could the oil giant really be protecting when the company also actually drills near the vulnerable sanctuary.
The advertisement and words on the page are clearly for show.
Shell does have close ties to the Flower Gardens. In fact, an executive from Shell Canada, Rebecca Nadel serves on the sanctuary’s advisory council. Also on the team for the sanctuary is James Sinclair of the now notorious Minerals Management Service. At first glance, it doesn’t exactly look like those employed to protect the sanctuary are representing the most responsible organizations.
Shell has a cozy bed in sanctuary bureaucracy.
The company however, does donate money to Flower Gardens. The Green Life reports $5,000 of direct funding each year. However, the site also acknowledges that it costs nearly six figures to run one advertisement in National Geographic. For a drop in the bucket, the oil giant rebrands its image as being concerned with the underwater sanctuary.
BP has run very similar greenwashing campaigns that seek to portray the company as putting forth a significant amount of effort toward alternative energy. Further research on the topic also found that they were only focusing a small percentage on alternatives, when the majority of their focus proved to be on oil.
If Shell really wanted to protect the area, it wouldn’t be drilling at all. When looking at the real facts of this company, it has no right to run advertisements that it is truly working to save the area that should be protected as a gold mine of beautiful species and ecosystems.
Every time that Shell drills again near the area, they are taking the risk that an event like the Deepwater Horizon spill could happen again. It’s a risk, and it severely outweighs any kind of protection that their $5,000 might provide. It’s a risk that can have serious consequences, and it’s a risk that forbids Shell from being called a truly green company or caring about the environment. It’s a risk that that completely undermines their pretty, full-page color advertisement and smoothly written paragraph that fakes sensitivity.
The company’s greenwashing actions seem even more intense when considering that Shell is currently moving forward with plans to drill off the Arctic coast of Alaska, even in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Should the oil from the current spill begin to effect the Flower Gardens Sanctuary, it will forever alter the status of what was supposed to be a protected place. However, it should be noted that as long as drilling by companies like BP, Shell, and others, still occurs, the threat will always be there.
It’s true, we do need more gardeners in the world. But not if they have the same green thumb that Shell does.
Someone should tell that company that oil isn’t good for any garden.
Though shell has been punished twice in recent years for greenwashing in the British media (here and here), the company seems to have little concern about greenwashing in American media. Check out the ad it has been running frequently in all the most influential papers and magazines, including the Economist and Washington Post on a regular basis.
You would think that Shell would learn from mistakes in the past. Last year, Shell was told to stop using the ad to the right in the UK. The text says:
“... 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.
“The challenge of the 21st century is to meet the growing need for energy in ways that are not only profitable but sustainable... In Canada we're harnessing our global network of technical and financial expertise to unlock the potential of the vast Canadian oil sands deposit. In the USA we're helping to build what will be the nation's largest refinery.”
“We noted that the large scale of the oil sands developments had considerable social and environmental impacts, including those on water conservation, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), land disturbance and waste management.
"Because we had not seen data that showed how Shell was effectively managing carbon emissions from its oil sands projects in order to limit climate change, we concluded that on this point the ad was misleading.”
The ASA concluded that the ad must not appear again in its current form.
But despite this lesson, Shell apparently has no qualms about making similar misleading claims in the US, for example the “less CO2” claim depicted above.
Shell also has no problem contributing funding to a large-scale anti-climate legislation campaign being run by the American Petroleum Institute. That campaign was not only caught astroturfing, but also uses scare tactics and misleading, biased information to make the public and policy makers believe that climate legislation would kill jobs or drastically rise gas prices. For example, the API ad below is featured in many of the same media outlets as Shell greenwash ads.
"The company has predicted that by 2025, 80% of energy will come from fossil fuels and 20% from alternative energy sources. Yet it is spending just over 1% of its budget on alternative technologies. Over the past five years, only $1.7bn of the $150bn it has invested has gone towards alternative energies."
Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.