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Shell's 'Sustainable' Oil Sands Ad Ruled Misleading

The U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority ruled against a Shell ad that referred to an oil sands project and refinery expansion as sustainable methods of providing energy.

Shell has again been chastised in the U.K. for making misleading statements in an advertisement. The company referred to mining the Canadian oils sands and expanding a U.S. refinery as "sustainable" ways to provide energy.

After a complaint from the WWF U.K., the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled against Shell, saying the use of "sustainable" in the ad was misleading and that the company did not back up environment claims.

The text of the ad says, "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," and, "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."

Shell defending it's use of "sustainable" by saying it was following the definition from the 1987 report by the World Commission on Environment and Development: "development which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

The ASA replied that the context of the ad implied that "sustainable" was referring to the environment and that the U.K.'s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has issued guidance on environmental claims, saying to avoid vague terms like “sustainable.”

Regarding the expansion of Shell's Port Arthur refinery in Texas, the ASA recognized that Shell planned to reduce emission per barrel at the facility, but noted that the increased production at the refinery would lead to higher overall emissions. The ASA also said it has not seen data showing how much certain emissions at the refinery would be reduced.

Although the ASA's ruling says the ad could not appear again, the company said it was a one-time ad. The ASA previously ruled against a Shell ad that showed flowers coming out of smokestacks.

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