The Dutch Advertising Code Committee (ACC) issued an important ruling on 26 August 2021. In the ruling, the ACC sets very high standards for the substantiation of CO2 neutralization claims.
Shell advertised with (amongst others) the following texts: "Make a difference. Drive CO2 neutral", "Now it's even easier to drive CO2 neutral. With compensationON you now automatically drive CO2 neutral" and "When you sign up for compensationON you automatically pay 1 cent extra per liter of fuel with Shell, with which you can compensate the CO2 emissions of the kilometers you drive. Shell then compensates the CO2 emissions from the extraction of the oil to the petrol station. (…)”.
After a complaint about this campaign, the ACC found that these CO2 neutralization claims of Shell are contrary to the Environmental Advertising Code (MRC). According to the ACC, the wording "CO2 neutral" used in the Shell campaign is interpreted by the average consumer as meaning that the harmful effect of CO2 emissions on the environment is fully offset by Shell’s compensatory measures. The CO2 neutralization claims are therefore labeled by the ACC as absolute environmental claims, in which case the advertiser has a very heavy burden of proof under the MRC. In the words of the ACC: "An absolute environmental claim is either guaranteed correct and for that reason admissible, or inadmissible." According to the ACC, Shell therefore had to demonstrate that (based on, for example, measurement data) CO2 neutrality in the claimed sense can actually be achieved in practice. Shell had made plausible that it complied with certain standards, in which a system of purchasing CO2 credits is used to compensate the emission of greenhouse gases. However, these standards are only a theoretical system based on agreements. According to the ACC, Shell did not demonstrate that in practice there is full compensation of adverse environmental effects. Therefore, Shell acts contrary to articles 2 and 3 of the MRC - according to the ACC.
This judgment shows that absolute formulated CO2-neutralization claims must be proven through hard evidence, and that referring to standards is not sufficient. The ACC requires rock solid evidence that the CO2 neutralization claim is actually realized in practice.