On 5 December 2019 a specific instance was filed by ClientEarth against BP at the UK NCP. The complaint concerns activities of BP in its advertising campaigns. In January 2019, BP launched a major international advertising campaign under the titles “Keep Advancing” and “Possibilities Everywhere.” The complainants argue that BP’s advertising campaign gives a false impression of the relative scale of renewable and low-carbon energy in BP’s business. Complainants allege the adverts convey that increases in global primary energy demand are desirable and inevitable for progress and development, while omitting information about the negative impacts of climate change caused by the use of fossil fuels. In addition, the complainants allege the adverts make misleading claims about the lifecycle emissions and environmental impacts of gas, representing gas as an ideal partner that performs a backup function to renewable energy.
The complainants argue that BP’s campaign is in conflict with the OECD Guidelines chapters concerning consumer interests and the environment. ClientEarth is seeking the UK NCP’s good offices to encourage BP to:
– withdraw and cease publication of the identified advertisements and public communications until revised to conform with the OECD Guidelines;
– make a public statement explaining the withdrawal and/or correction of its advertisements;
– ensure that all future advertising and public communications include a warning or a disclaimer that the use of the company’s oil and gas products create greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change; and
– make a public commitment that its future communications on climate and environment-related issues will be consistent with the OECD Guidelines and introduce a clear internal policy to this effect.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
As part of the initial assessment process, the UK NCP offered each party a meeting to explain the process, which they both accepted. Meetings were held in January 2020.
Before BP sent its response about the complaint to the NCP on 21 February 2020, it announced on 12 February 2020 that it was ending the advertising campaign that was the main subject of the complaint. BP further announced it would not replace the campaign under the company’s new policy promising an end to ‘corporate reputation advertising.’ BP’s CEO also committed BP to redirecting its advertising resources towards advocating for progressive climate policies.
Following this announcement, the UK NCP considered that it did not serve the purpose and effectiveness of the Guidelines to continue with ClientEarth’s complaint. The UK NCP therefore decided not to accept the complaint for mediation or further examination.
Although the complaint was rejected, complainants consider it had a positive outcome. First, the complainants believe the filing of the complaint played a part in encouraging BP to end the advertising campaign and redirect its advertising resources. Second, the complaint represents a positive development more broadly on addressing corporate greenwashing, for the UK NCP had taken steps toward assessing the complaint as material and substantiated, and did not accept it only because BP ended the relevant advertising campaign.