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Huliq, NC: How Royal Dutch Shell Whitewash led to Greenwash

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!
(Quote from Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832)

The Royal Dutch Shell Group is once again caught deceiving the public.

The Dutch Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that a complaint made by Friends of the Earth Netherlands about a Royal Dutch Shell “green” themed advertising campaign was well founded and that the advertising was misleading i.e. deceptive.

We all live in a world of spin especially in relation to marketing and advertising where things are not always what they appear. I live in the UK. Here the packet size for potato chips (we call them “crisps”) is getting bigger, while the number of potato chips actually inside each packet is getting less. Packets are double the size actually needed. I recently bought a box of chocolates and discovered that the tray containing the chocolates was surrounded by a cardboard construction to make it appear that far more chocolates are inside than was actually the case. Both brands are obviously more interested in fooling the public to sell product than in environmental considerations.

Even my local supermarket restaurant now serves breakfast on smaller plates in an attempt to make it look as if the serving is generous, when in fact the same items served on a regular size plate would look inadequate.

Basically consumers are treated like mugs. So it is no wonder that the oil giants have joined the bandwagon.

BP and Shell have both been desperately trying to cultivate a green image. Both campaigns have spectacularly backfired. BP’s environmental credentials and its reputation were left in tatters by pipeline leaks in Alaska due to gross negligence by BP in design, construction and maintenance.

Now Shell’s advertising campaign has been successfully challenged in The Netherlands, the Country in which the Royal Dutch Shell Group has its headquarters.

Shell maintained that it was creatively using its waste carbon dioxide to help grow flowers. Friends of the Earth contended that in fact only a tiny percentage of Shell’s carbon dioxide emissions were piped into greenhouses. The Dutch Advertising Authority ruled in favour of the FOE.

The Shell campaign in question is about the most blatant and hypocritical example of treating the public as fools that I have ever come across. In its advertising graphics, flowers are seen rising from a Shell oil refinery. In reality the emissions are rather more deadly in nature. The flowery idyllic imagery stands totally at odds with the pollution filled track record of Shell as detailed for example in the Wikipedia online article: “Controversies surrounding Royal Dutch Shell”.

Here are a few examples of the headlines from the Wikipedia article: –

• Shell fined $19.75 million for oil spill from Martinez Refinery
• Shell settles Martinez Refinery dumping suit for $3 Million
• Release of chemical pollutants at Shell Texas Deer Park complex
• Shell Pipeline rupture in Washington
• Groundwater contamination by Shell in USA
• Unauthorized venting and flaring of gas

Why would Shell management think that it could succeed in hoodwinking the public with a multimillion dollar green campaign which seems to have been devised by an illusionist?

The answer is that the current Shell management not only has an atrocious track record for creating pollution. It is also part of the same management responsible for the securities fraud in 2004 for which the financial regulatory authorities imposed fines of $150 million on Shell for “fooling the market”.

Shell has already paid over $100 million in settlements for class action lawsuits arising from the fraud and has set aside $500 million to settle the one remaining global class action.

Three senior Shell executives were forced to resign but received millions of dollars in severance packages (perhaps to buy their silence?). Others tainted by the scandal managed with the aid of lawyers and PR advisors to survive the fall out and remain firmly ensconced at the helm of the Royal Dutch Shell Group. They self-evidently believe in following the same flawed corporate culture of deception which led to the reserves scandal.

The result is the latest humiliation; the damning “greenwash” verdict by Dutch authorities in respect of the biggest and once most respected Dutch brand: Royal Dutch Shell.

The fall from grace particularly since the 2004 scandal, may explain the recent observations by analysts about the company being undervalued by $120 billion. The undervaluation is due to the utterly shameless and flawed management which has put Shell’s reputation on a par with the likes of Enron and WorldCom, as confirmed by a survey published by The Wall Street Journal.

By John Donovan

This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

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