Contact l Sitemap

home industries issues reasearch weblog press

Home  » Campaigns » Past Campaigns » Greenwash Awards

Shell: Clouding the Issue

by Kenny BrunoSpecial to CorpWatch
November 15th, 2000

As the Sixth UN conference on Climate Change in the Hague gets underway, one of the planet's largest corporate climate culprits has dared to raise its profile by taking out a advertisement in the Financial Times about the global warming issue. Shell, the world's third largest oil company, is continuing its clever but misleading series "Profits or Principles" with the ad pictured on this page.

Shell AdShell Ad

The ad is pretty, of course, and it sounds reasonable, caring and honest. But Shell, has a history of "greenwash" -- green-themed advertising and public relations aimed at presenting an environmentally responsible image. So let's take a deeper look at the "Clouding the Air" ad.

Shell asks: "Is the burning of fossil fuels and increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the air a serious threat or just a lot of hot air?" It sounds like a tough question, but it's not. There is overwhelming scientific opinion that both fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions are a serious threat. The main reason for the "hot air" theory is a major effort by the oil industry, among others, to discredit climate change science in the eyes of policy makers and the public. Shell has been among the companies questioning the science since 1988, although in recent years it has finally admitted that enough is known to call for a precautionary approach.

Shell says that "last year, we renewed our commitment not only to meet the agreed Kyoto targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but to exceed them." This is a fine step, but not nearly as significant as it might seem. Like the other fossil fuel giants, Shell's impact on the climate stems not primarily from its use of oil and gas, but from its production. Oil produced by Shell alone accounts for more carbon dioxide than most countries in the world. Steps to address this much larger role would be significant, but instead Shell continues a worldwide effort to locate and produce more oil and gas that the world cannot afford to burn if it is to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Shell says, "We're working to increase the provision of cleaner burning natural gas..." In theory, natural gas leads to somewhat lower carbon emissions than burning of oil for the same amount of energy. But if you count gas leaks, known asfugitive emissions, the difference between gas and oil for the climate is slim to none, and impacts on the local environment and communities are similar to those of oil. Natural gas is a best an incremental improvement over oil, and at worst a distraction from the real challenge of moving our economies beyond fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, other ads in the "Profits or Principles" series tout Shell's commitment to renewable energy sources. They feature Shell photos of lush green forests accompanied by earnest discussion of this purported commitment. But, according to Greenpeace, Shell spends a miniscule 0.6% of its annual investments on renewables. In true greenwash fashion, Shell's actions do not match its words.

Says Shell, "It's all part of our commitment to sustainable development." Their ad writer should read an essay in Shell's own glossy "Profits and Principles" booklet. Buried in the expensive and lovely pages of that publication is this nugget of truth: "...a sustainable oil company is a contradiction in terms."

"Cloud the Issue or Clear the Air?" Long-time Kyoto Protocol watchers are aware of the powerful role the oil industry has played in slowing and weakening the agreements on climate change. Self-proclaimed corporate environmentalist leaders like Shell and BP take credit for voluntary initiatives that do not harm their bottom line, while allowing others to do the dirty work of making sure international agreements do nothing to curtail their activities.

The pictures and copy in Shell's ads are clear. But in the atmosphere of the climate negotiations, they have clouded the issue once again.


Ad Text

Cloud the Issue or Clear the Air?

The issue of global warming has given rise to a h eated debate. Is the burning of fossil fuels and increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the air a serious threat or just a lot of hot air?

Shell believes that action needs to be taken now, both by companies and their customers. So last year, we renewed our commitment not only to meet the agreed Kyoto targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but to exceed them. We're working to increase the provision of cleaner burning natural gas and encouraging the use of lower-carbon fuels for homes and transport. It's all part of our commitment to sustainable development, balancing economic progress with environmental care and social responsibility. Solutions to the future won't come easily, particularly in today's business climate, but you can't find them if you don't keep looking.

Financial Times
11/14/2000