Oil giant Shell yesterday became the latest multinational to be accused of "greenwashing" by environmental campaigners who claimed the company had released "misleading" adverts that overstate its green credentials.
Environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth last week filed official complaints in the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium against the adverts, which depict the outline of an oil refinery emitting flowers rather than smoke and claim that it uses its "waste CO2 to grow flowers and waste sulphur to make concrete".
Friends of the Earth said that the advert was misleading because it suggests that Shell uses all of its waste carbon dioxide (CO2) to help grow flowers when in reality it has just one facility where emissions are reclaimed in this manner.
The lobby group also claimed that the advert's tag line, "Don't throw anything away, there is no away", may be technically true, but "the implication that Shell carries out its operations in line with this [statement] is false and misleading".
"Shell is one of the world's dirtiest companies," said Hannah Griffiths, Friends of the Earth's Corporates Campaigner. "Shell should spend money cleaning up its mess, not on deceiving the public with expensive, dishonest adverts. We hope that the advertising standard authorities will take immediate action to withdraw the advert and order Shell to air a correction to the audiences reached with the misleading advert."
According to reports, environmentalists and shareholders raised the issue of the adverts again at the company's annual meeting yesterday and also attacked the firm over its record in Nigeria, where Shell has repeatedly appealed judgments on flaring – a process whereby gas produced when oil is extracted is not captured and reused and is instead flared, leading to emissions of sulphur which contributes to acid rain.
A spokeswoman for the company stood by the adverts, claiming they were "about raising awareness and showing one solution of many".
She added that the advertisements needed to be seen alongside Shell's broader messaging and its commitment to help "meet the world's energy needs in an environmentally and socially responsible manner".
The company also defended its record in Nigeria where it has been accused of violating a Nigerian court order by continuing to waste gas though flaring. Shell said that $3bn had been spent on tackling the problem of flaring, but problems such as lawlessness in the Niger delta meant it would be unable to complete the work before 2009.
The controversial annual meeting comes just days after Shell released its latest sustainability report detailing its new Code of Conduct for making projects more environmentally sustainable and an increase in its support for renewable energy technologies.
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