As Americans become increasingly concerned about climate change, Shell has launched public relations campaigns that portray a green image and emphasize efforts to protect the world’s resources and climate. Their efforts run the gamut of PR strategies, from print and television, to less traditional blogs and magazines. In reality, Shell’s “green” activities do not warrant the amount of publicity they are receiving.
Where There’s a Will, There’s “Away”
This print ad claims greenhouse gas emissions from Shell facilities were being piped into actual Dutch greenhouses to stimulate the growth of flowers. The retro-60s font style seems intended to suggest an “Age of Aquarius” holistic, closed-loop approach to oil production.
Contrary the claim that “there is no away,” Shell – the world’s second-largest oil company – has a definite idea of where “away” is located. It’s in Ogoniland, the part of the Niger River delta in Nigeria where Shell has conducted oil extraction operations since 1958, resulting in widespread pollution of Ogoniland and the deaths and displacement of tens of thousands of the Ogoni people .
In July 2007, the Dutch Advertising Code Authority (Holland is Shell’s home nation) ordered the company to withdraw the flowers ad, determining that it is a “misleading environmental claim” .
The ad is part of an expensive campaign to call attention to a small-scale project near Shell’s corporate headquarters, all the while hoping no one will notice the environmental devastation and human rights violations occurring in the region where Shell actually pumps oil from the ground. There more details available on Sourcewatch and Crococyl.
In another print ad, Shell seems to suggests that “GLT” fuel will grow trees and make snow. The fuel is not explained in the ad, but it refers to “Gas to Liquid” fuel – a fuel made from natural gas. The fuel does reduce harmful emissions compared to gas, but the insinuation that using this fuel will somehow result in snowy wildernesses is over the top, especially considering that burning this fuel releases greenhouse gas emission that are melting snow in many places around the world.
Shell has had lots of trouble sticking to the truth: in the last couple years the company has also mislead the public about the size of its oil reserves and the environmental impacts of its operations … among other things.
“V” for Very Destructive
In a televised ad, Shell advertises its premium gas by using colorful animated fish, portraying the marine environment as a happy, healthy, musical place. In reality, Shell has a tradition of disturbing marine environments, especially off the coast of Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico where it uses seismic testing to search for oil.
Shell helped pioneer seismic technology, and has been sending sound waves below the surface of the ocean ever since. The blasts from seismic guns reach volumes that can cause permanent hearing loss, disorientation, brain hemorrhaging and death in marine mammals. When they lose part or all of their hearing, marine mammals cannot find food, avoid predators or communicate with each other. As a testament to this, in June over 100 whales were stranded off the coast of Madagascar near a site where Exxon was performing seismic surveys . Shell is continuing its seismic surveys this summer off the shores of Alaska, despite a court injunction that forbids them from drilling wells because of environmental and cultural concerns.
Perhaps some of the most influential advertising Shell is doing these days, is its non-traditional advertising. These new concepts include a “Shell World” magazine and a “Shell Dialogues” website. These communications seem to try to engage the public in matters regarding energy production, all the while portraying Shell in a green light. Both the magazine and website include short stories about “green” technologies, like biofuels, cooking oils, and carbon capture and storage, and emphasize Shell’s hope to bring these technologies to market – even though they are not a part of the company’s core business. Shell does not acknowledge in these communications that the company’s main operations are responsible for large, devastating environmental and health impacts that make most of these “green” initiatives miniscule by comparison. For example, in the July issue of “Shell World”, there’s a feature story about smog in Beijing and the health impacts citizens are facing . The article never mentions that smog is caused in large part by burning gas in vehicles, or that Shell is planning to build a large new refinery in China.