ClientEarth, a British environmental group, brought a suit against BP after it released a large ad campaign in the UK that touted its investment in clean energy. The suit alleged BP misled the public by overstating its investment in clean energy. Before the case could be heard, BP announced it was ending the advertising campaign and would not replace it.
The oil company, BP, launched an ad campaign with the themes "Keep Advancing" and "Possibilities Everywhere". The campaign featured promises of renewable energy and climate solutions. However, the British nonprofit ClientEarth alleged that the ad campaign was misleading because the company wasn't changing its core practices, only its reputation. Even though the ads suggested BP was already turning to clean energy, over 96% of BP's spending contributes to oil and gas. ClientEarth stated that BP was "greenwashing", or putting forth the image that a company is environmentally friendly when they're actually not. The plaintiffs alleged in court that the ads violate the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which mandate that companies must provide clear, honest, and accurate information to the public. ClientEarth asked BP to correct the information and withdraw certain information or completely remove the ads with a statement on why the information was removed.
Relevant Laws and Principles
- Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
In February 2020, BP announced it would be stopping the campaign and wouldn't replace it, despite initially denying that the ads were misleading. BP also announced a net-zero goal and new investments in renewable energy, with the promise of renewable-related ads only if BP reaches its goal. Because the ad campaign was taken down, the suit didn't proceed but would have if BP hadn't removed it. The UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines found that ClientEarth had a legitimate interest in the complaint and it was material and substantiated.
Despite the case being dropped, it still set an important precedent in that the UK NCP found there was a legitimate interest in litigating greenwashing ads. Sophie Marjanac, a ClientEarth lawyer, stated, “Today’s decision sets a precedent for people to use the OECD guidelines to hold companies to account for their greenwashing on the basis of consumer interests – including in their advertising. Fossil fuel companies using advertising to mislead the public over their climate impact have been put on notice."