Repsol has renewable hydrogen ad banned in the UK over greenwashing worries

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered Repsol to pull one of its adverts focused on green hydrogen, which it ruled led readers to believe the energy major had already commenced production at scale.

Repsol has renewable hydrogen ad banned in the UK over greenwashing worries

The advertisement in question was featured on the Financial Times’ website and one of its specialist digital newsletters this summer. It stated: “Renewable hydrogen, another alternative to reduce emissions. At Repsol, we are committed to renewable hydrogen as an energy source that offers up different uses such as zero net emissions synthetic fuel production.”

AdFree Cities challenged whether the advertisement was misleading because it omitted information on the overall impact of Repsol’s business activities, which include oil and gas. Repsol produced around 600,000 barrels of oil per day in 2021 and is eyeing oil and gas expansion across more than 40,600 acres globally.

Repsol countered that the advert did link through to its corporate website, including its ESG reports and targets relating to the energy transition and emissions reduction. The firm has committed to reduce net emissions by 30% by 2030 against a 2016 baseline. This ambition feeds into a 2050 net-zero plan.

Additionally, Repsol has pledged to ensure that 45% of its total employed capital is invested in low-carbon energies by the end of the decade.

The ASA ruled that those who viewed the avert were likely to assume that lower-carbon energy, including renewable hydrogen, already formed a significant proportion of Repsol’s overall energy production. This was partly due to the text used but also to icons depicting a solar panel, an electric car, a wind turbine, a tree, and biofuels for vehicles.

In reality, Repsol is not yet producing green hydrogen and is not due to start doing so until 2024 at the earliest.

The company’s stated CO2e footprint in 2021 was 171 million tonnes. This is around half of the total annual emissions footprint of the UK that year.

The ASA ultimately sided with AdFree Cities, which is campaigning for a total ban on advertising from fossil fuel majors. The ASA stated that the advert was likely to mislead or confuse both potential investors in Repsol and everyday consumers of its products.

Repsol has been told that the advert must not appear again.

Growing trend

Earlier this year, the ASA ordered Shell to pull a video advert and billboard campaign after a similar complaint from AdFree Cities. The watchdog concluded that the adverts would lead viewer s to overestimate Shell’s investment in clean energies and potentially underestimate its investment in fossil fuels.

Badvertising campaigner Freddie Daley said these adverts are just two of many similar kinds of fossil fuel marketing.

Daley said:  “Adverts like this now banned Repsol ad are symptomatic of the broader tactics of the fossil fuel industry. These companies are intent on promoting technologies that allow them to continue expanding fossil fuel production, directly contradicting what experts are telling us is needed, while falsely touting their green credentials and claiming to be leaders in the energy transition.

“The litmus test for true climate leadership in the energy sector is pivoting away from fossil fuels.”

The International Energy Agency recently published an update to its major 1.5C-aligned net-zero transition pathway for the global energy sector. Once again, it concluded that fossil fuel expansion is incompatible with this pathway. Its scenario entails fossil fuel use in 2050 standing at just 20% of current levels, sourced from existing operational projects.

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