Nikita Mishra
Mar 19, 2024

Comms Declare blasts Shell’s ‘Olympic-level gaslighting’ as it calls for creative review

Environmental advocacy groups will closely watch Shell Energy's creative pitch in Australia to see how the company navigates the evolving landscape of environmental accountability and public perception.

Belinda Noble, founder and president, Comms Declare
Belinda Noble, founder and president, Comms Declare

Shell Energy Australia, the petroleum conglomerate's renewable and energy solutions arm, is shopping for a new creative agency. The development follows their collaboration with Brisbane’s Nous agency on campaigns that showcased their net-zero efforts in 2022.

The company claims to offer a broad range of energy solutions, including gas, electricity, and environmental products; it previously engaged creative shop Sense for a national campaign promoting Shell V-Power in 2021.

Shell Energy's call for a pitch has come under harsh scrutiny from environmental advocacy groups. Comms Declare, a communications industry watchdog, spoke to Campaign and issued a stark warning to agencies considering the pitch.

Comms Declare founder Belinda Noble said, “Shell is an Olympic-level gaslighter. It talks up the energy transition but just weakened its 2030 emissions reduction target and abandoned its 2035 target entirely.”

To give context, the oil and energy major has recently updated its plan to cut the total net carbon intensity of its energy products it sells to customers—the emissions per unit of energy—by 20% between 2016 and 2030. The reduction has now been revised at 15-20%. 

Noble highlighted the discrepancy between Shell’s publicised net-zero ambitions and internal communications, which suggest otherwise.

“These greenwashing claims are being investigated by the corporate regulator,” she added.

Noble further criticised the energy retailer’s role as “the friendly face of an international corporation betting against the energy transition and a safe future for our children”. She cautioned agencies that collaborating with Shell will inadvertently support the fossil-fuel industry while potentially tarnishing their own reputation.

"Agencies may think that taking the account is helping to promote renewables, but they will just be propping up a brand doubling down on oil and gas and damaging their own reputation in the process," she said. 

The Draft Environmental Claims Code by the AANA and new EU Directives have tightened regulations against unsubstantiated environmental claims by fossil fuel companies, reflecting a growing scrutiny over corporate sustainability narratives.

The controversy surrounding agency support of Shell’s environmental stance is not without precedent. After securing Shell’s media account, Havas continues to face significant backlash, including a review of its B-Corp statusclient departure, employee dissatisfaction, and protests outside its London office. 

Demonstration outside Shell's London office

Noble’s criticism extends beyond Shell. In September, following the release of the Comms Declare and Clean Creatives F-list, which reported a record number of fossil fuel contracts in 2023, she called out the advertising industry. She remarked, “You’re only as green as your clients,” highlighting that 92 agencies in Australia represent fossil-fuel businesses, nearly double the number from the previous year.

"Havas and others may argue their engagement with big polluters will result in better business practices and it allows them to influence corporations from within. The best minds in climate change and social sciences disagree," she said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report called for an end to fossil-fuel marketing and PR. The United Nations Secretary-General told the UN that the “massive public relations machine raking in billions to shield the fossil fuel industry from scrutiny” needs to be held to account.

Shell Energy Australia has not issued any statement; it has neither confirmed nor denied pitching the account. 

Campaign Asia

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