What Shell’s advertising ban says to industry
The UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) is getting increasingly feisty when it comes to greenwash. Its latest target is Shell, for releasing a series of ads bigging up their clean energy investments while failing to mention they’re one of the biggest climate change villains in the world. Bravo, ASA!
It’s not (just) schadenfreude at Shell getting a public kicking that cheers me up about this, it’s the principle that green claims can’t be used as a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. While cynics might say Shell knows exactly what it is doing, I find that organisations often do this as a form of self-delusion. “Look at all the stuff we are doing!” they cry, pointing at a list of bullet points, to which the killer question is “but what does all that stuff add up to?”
The best at Sustainability lay open the scale of the problem – usually a full carbon footprint. They set explicit targets such as “net zero by 2040 with a minimum 85% direct reduction in our footprint.” And they set out the measures to achieve that.
The self-deluded rely on anecdotes, case studies, bullet lists of measures and fragmentary statistics. Yesterday I read a big corporation boasting they had increased their renewable energy use by 30%, to which my immediate response was “30% of what? Because 130% of bugger all is still bugger all.”
Brutal honesty and transparency drives internal action and builds external trust. Everything needs to be put in context of the big picture and then everybody knows what needs to be done with no hiding from the truth.