This Ruling forms part of a wider piece of work on environmental claims in the Energy sector, following intelligence gathered by the ASA.
A TV ad for Petronas, seen in September 2022, began with a voice-over, spoken by a child, which said, “Our story began with a dream, to see if we could take on an industry. It wasn't easy, but slowly, good began to happen.” Scenes of traffic moving, a port full of shipping containers, broken ice floating on the sea, litter in a river and a forest fire were shown. The voice-over continued, “But as the world produced more energy it became nature's problem, and we were part of it. An answer was needed so we started connecting the dots, to become a progressive energy and solutions partner, enriching lives for a sustainable future.” Solar panels, children in classrooms, a well being built and recycling in a factory were shown. The voice-over said, “To reduce emissions, grow renewable energy, bring education to more, champion social impact and promote a circular economy, as well as achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050” and text stating “Net Zero 2050” was shown on screen. The voice-over continued, “Let's connect the dots together and create a more sustainable future for all so that our next generation will always have something to look forward to” and a child was shown looking out into the distance.
The ASA challenged whether the ad exaggerated the total environmental benefit of the advertiser's products and services and therefore was misleading.
Petroliam Nasional Berhad t/a Petronas said that in 2020 it announced its aspiration to be net zero by 2050. They had taken steps to achieve net zero and would soon be announcing a pathway to progress and accelerate the aim.
They explained that the ad stated that they were part of nature’s problem but were working to a cleaner energy future and highlighted positive developments in the past two decades. They believed the acknowledgement that they were part of the problem meant the ad did not mislead or overstate their green credentials in the ad.
They said the ad was a portrayal of how Petronas had and would act towards a sustainable future, guided by their four sustainability lenses. They acknowledged that as the ad only ran for 60 seconds, they were unable to include all information about their business efforts, but a fuller version was available on their website.
They said that sustainability was deeply rooted in their “Statement of Purpose” which was that they were a progressive energy and solution partner, helping lives for a sustainable future. They said sustainability considerations contributed directly to what they did as a business, how they operated and how they engaged with all their internal and external stakeholders.
Clearcast said that they did not consider that the ad exaggerated the total environmental benefits of Petronas’ products and services. They were given substantiation by Petronas which demonstrated that they had taken practical steps outlined in the ad and had a credible and tangible zero carbon target, which was a genuine aspiration.
They explained that the language of the ad made clear that Petronas had been part of the problem and was on a journey to improve. The ad was about ambition and planned change. It did not exaggerate or imply environmental benefits that did not exist, it acknowledged their impact on nature and demonstrated the steps they were taking to limit that in the future. They therefore said the ad was not misleading and had been substantiated.
They provided substantiation from Petronas that showed their commitment to net zero in 2050 and steps taken to be sustainable.
The CAP Code required that the basis of environmental claims must be clear and stated that claims could mislead if material information was omitted.
The ASA considered consumers would understand the claim, “… so we started connecting the dots, to become a progressive energy and solutions partner, enriching lives for a sustainable future. To reduce emissions, grow renewable energy … impact and promote a circular economy, as well as achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050” to mean that Petronas was already an energy company that was contributing to a sustainable future by making progress towards emissions reductions and growing the use of renewable energy, as well as having a plan in place that would result in it achieving these goals and net zero by 2050.
We acknowledged that the ad stated, “… as the world produced more energy it became nature's problem, and we were part of it”, which Petronas believed made clear that the ad did not exaggerate the environmental benefits of the company. However, this claim was about their past contribution to the impact of energy production on the environment. It did not therefore counteract the claims in the ad about Petronas’s current activities and future plans, which suggested they were now primarily focused on positive environmental activities which were already having a positive overall impact today and would lead to net zero by 2050.
We further acknowledged that Petronas said they were taking steps towards net zero and promoting sustainable energy, and these were reflected in the ad. The other claims in the ad were intended to be aspirational rather than targets that had already been achieved. However, despite that, in 2021 Petronas’ operations produced 45.2 million tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs). While we considered that viewers would recognise that companies in the oil industry were likely to be higher emitters of greenhouse gases than many other industries, we did not consider they would understand the extent of Petronas’ continuing significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions given the presentation and claims in the ad - that Petronas were already taking steps that had a positive impact on the environment, which went beyond aspirational claims. We therefore considered information about the balance of Petronas’ current activities, its emissions and the pathway to reducing them in line with the claims made in the ad, was material information likely to affect consumers’ understanding of the ad’s overall message and so should have been made clear. We therefore concluded that the ad omitted material information and was misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1, 3.2 (Misleading advertising), and 9.2 (Environmental claims).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Petroliam Nasional Berhad t/a Petronas to ensure that their future marketing communications did not misleadingly omit material information.