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Financial Times: Green backlash: Dutch Advertising Authority rules Shell advertisements were misleading

Companies have been tripping all over themselves in the past year or so to prove their commitment to healing the planet. “Green” PR campaigns generally have succeeded in helping boost corporate reputations. Companies from GE to News Corp have won praise for green initiatives.

Prepare now for the backlash. One group, the Dutch oil group Shell, has been called out for its claims that it has been creatively using its waste carbon dioxide to help grow flowers.

Friends of the Earth Netherlands challenged the veracity of a Shell advertising campaign in which flowers were shown blowing out of a refinery chimney. The ads ran in European newspapers and magazines in May.

Friends of the Earth took the ads to the Dutch Advertising Authority, which ruled this week that the advertisements were indeed misleading. The group concluded that only a tiny proportion of Shell’s carbon dioxide emissions were piped into greenhouses. The environmental group took a similar argument to the Belgian advertising authority, which rejected it. A case in England is still pending.

Win or lose, the cases have brought attention to a clever term that the environmentalists hope will challenge claims dreamt up by big advertising agencies: greenwashing. Indeed, Observer had a difficult time ignoring an e-mail with the subject line: “Shell told to stop ‘greenwashing’

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