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Facebook flags Irish gas suppliers for running carbon footprint ads without disclaimers

Ads that encouraged carbon footprint reduction did not carry a disclaimer that Facebook requires for ads about social issues.

FACEBOOK HAS FLAGGED advertisements from three Irish gas suppliers for not including a disclaimer that must be attached to ads about social issues.

In recent months and years, Energia, Electric Ireland and Calor Ireland have placed ads on Facebook and Instagram that encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint by using their services.

But for at least one ad from each of the companies, Facebook flagged the ad for not carrying a disclaimer and the ad has been taken down.

Facebook requires ads about “social issues, elections, or politics” to come with a disclaimer that gives social media users more information about the ad and advertiser.

Carbon footprints are a measure of how much a particular set of behaviours and activities contribute to carbon emissions. Internationally, ads from companies that invoke carbon footprints can be contentious, with some climate experts saying it can put undue responsibility for climate change onto consumers.

In September, Energia ran three separate ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram that indicated the importance of reducing carbon footprints.

In an ad that ran without a disclaimer, which was taken down, Energia wrote: “Reduce your home energy bills and carbon footprint with Energia solar panels.”

Two other ads were run with disclaimers and were not removed.

These said:

  • “Storms, flash floods & heat waves are the latest impacts of climate change on our planet. However, there are easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint at home that could save you money while saving the planet” and
  • “Do you want to lower your carbon footprint by reducing the usage of harmful fossil fuels, while reducing your energy bill? With so many advantages to adding solar panels to your home, Energia can help you on your journey to a greener and more sustainable home.”

In a statement to The Journal, Energia said: “The Facebook ad that we believe is being referenced was a one-off isolated incident, whereby a third-party agency accidentally posted the incomplete content to Facebook without the appropriate sign off.”

“Once realised, the content was immediately removed, updated with the appropriate disclaimer and reposted correctly.”

Energia 2 Facebook Ad Library Facebook Ad Library

Energia 1 Facebook Ad Library

Electric Ireland posted an ad last month saying that it is helping farms around Ireland to reduce their carbon footprint with solar energy, which was taken down after running without a disclaimer.

Electric Ireland told The Journal that ”adverts of this nature are referred to as special category ads by Facebook and require a disclaimer, which due to IT issues in receiving certain codes from the platform, were not possible to provide in this instance”.

“We are working on amending our IT security structure to allow for the receipt of such codes in the future and this will enable us to provide the necessary disclaimer required by the platform.”

In 2019, Calor Ireland ran an ad campaign without a disclaimer that said: “We care about the future. Calor BioLPG 100% renewable energy is now available. Reduce the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions in your home or business. See why you should switch.” 

A spokesperson for Calor said that it is “currently reviewing a small number of Facebook adverts over the last three years”.

“Calor advertising routinely incorporates Terms and Conditions and other relevant information.  We are engaging with Facebook to understand their policy in this area.”

The ads are archived in Facebook’s ad library and contain a notice from Facebook saying: “This ad ran without a disclaimer. After the ad started running, we determined that the ad was about social issues, elections or politics and required the label. The ad has been taken down.”

Facebook has not responded to a request for comment.

Carbon footprints

Over the last two decades, the concept of a carbon footprint has become central to discussions about individual climate action in the environmental realm, but also in language used by some fossil fuel and energy companies. 

In 2019, BP, one of the largest oil companies in the world, tweeted: “The first step to reducing your emissions is to know where you stand. Find out your #carbonfootprint with our new calculator & share your pledge today!” 

The tweet sparked criticism ranging from climate experts in Ireland and the United States to then-White House hopeful Bernie Sanders

Carbon footprint calculators are not a new venture for BP – it first launched one in 2004 that measured how an individual or household’s activities impact the carbon emissions they produce.

In a 2001 rebrand, BP changed its name from British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum, and in 2005, it ran a series of ads emphasising carbon footprints, with slogans like “What on earth is a carbon footprint?”; “Reducing our footprint. Here’s where we stand”; and “What size is your carbon footprint?”.

As it promotes individuals monitoring and reducing their carbon footprints, BP has also been vocal about corporate climate pledges, including a strategy launched last year to increase its low carbon investment by tenfold and reduce emissions from its operations by 30-35% by 2030. 

But at the same time, it was responsible for at least 374 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions last year.

Now, campaigners are calling for the European Union to ban advertising and sponsorship from fossil fuel companies.

Speaking to The Journal from Brussels, Silvia Pastorelli, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace, said we have “known for decades how these activities are impacting the climate and the environment – there’s no reason for us to keep promoting these in advertisements and in our public spaces”.

“Fossil fuel companies now very rarely advertise, or at least show in their advertisements, a fossil gas pipeline,” Pastorelli said.

“That’s not what they show to people, that’s not the picture that they use to represent themselves and their business,” she outlined.

“What they show instead is either showcasing their climate pledges or showcasing renewables like solar panels and windmills.

She said that if a business’ primary activity “remains the exploration, extraction and production of fossil fuels”,

“It’s misrepresenting what they actually do, and by doing this, they want to promote themselves as part of the solution to a crisis that is essentially a crisis of their own making, they have a disproportionate responsibility for the climate crisis.”

greenpeace-activists-stand-next-to-an-oil-drilling-rig-replica-in-front-of-the-glass-pyramid-of-the-louvre-museum-during-a-protest-in-paris-as-part-of-the-launching-of-an-european-citizens-initiative Activists with a replica of an oil drilling rig outside the Louvre in Paris at the launch of the ban campaign Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

At the University of Brighton in the UK, Professor Julie Davis, an expert in climate communication, published an article in 2011 charting how BP emphasised language like carbon footprint, “cleaner”, and “lower” in its advertising in the early 2000s to build an image of a climate-friendly brand.

“Its advertising campaigns have acknowledged the problem of climate change whilst offering the corporation as the solution to the problem,” Doyle wrote.

“By acknowledging the risks and realities of climate change through advertising and branding, BP is thus able discursively to eliminate the current risks of fossil fuel reliance by presenting itself as the solution, rather than a contributor, to climate change.”

The term is widespread in conversations about the environment and climate action. Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a webpage dedicated to explaining what carbon footprints are and linking to online calculators that people can use to determine theirs.

Last week, Google announced a new carbon footprint reporting tool that will show cloud users the emissions linked to the electricity used to store and process their data. 

“All the individual actions to reduce our own impact, they’re all important – to reduce meat consumption, to switch to different means of transport, to recycle, all these things are very important,” Pastorelli said.

“But there is a disproportionate responsibility when it comes to emissions and pollution from polluting industries,” she said.

She believes some advertising is “shifting responsibility from the company to the consumer” and that particular companies are not “moving fast enough to a different energy system”.

Pastorelli is leading the campaign calling for the European Union to ban fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship in member states.

The petition, which has collected 60,000 signatures since launching earlier this month, is a European Citizens Initiative, which means that if it collects one million signatures in a year, the European Commission is obliged to consider the proposal.

Green Party MEP Grace O’Sullivan told The Journal she “categorically supports” any calls for the EU to ban fossil fuel advertising.

“We are in a climate and biodiversity emergency and the extraction and use of fossil fuels is playing a detrimental, indeed catastrophic role in adding to the worst impacts of these twin emergencies,” O’Sullivan said.

It’s appalling to me that advertising space is given over to the promotion of life-wrecking fuels. 

The MEP said that she would vote in favour of a European Parliament vote calling for such a ban, “with the proviso that the wording or proposed action around such a vote would be strong, science-based and genuine, not some attempt at greenwashing”.

In statements to The Journal, Energia, Electric Ireland and Calor all said that their services can help consumers reduce their emissions.

“As part of its remit and energy efficiency obligations, Energia provides customers and the broader general public with guidance on how they can save energy,” Energia said.

“This content takes the form of advertisements and editorial features across all mediums, drawing on recognisable and accessible language to ensure an understanding among all audiences.”

Electric Ireland said that its solar PV technology can “help farms reduce electricity bills, reduce carbon footprint and increase the energy efficiency of operations on the farm”.

“Electric Ireland’s Solar PV installations can help power energy-intensive operations on farms, such as milking parlours with 100% renewable energy. Farms can also avail of diverters to heat water on-site using solar energy and install a battery storage system to ensure no renewable energy is wasted,” it said. 

And Calor said that it “offers a range of products which enable customers reduce the carbon emissions associated with heating their homes or other activities such as cooking and heating”.

“Calor’s traditional Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) product offers up to a 10-11% reduction in carbon emissions when compared to Kerosene, the most common home heating oil.

“LPG also has a significantly lower carbon intensity than coal or peat, other common forms of home heating in rural Ireland. Calor BioLPG, our certified renewable gas, offers up to 90% reduction in emissions when compared to Calor LPG.”

If successful, the European Citizens Initiative would ask the European Commission to propose legislation prohibiting advertisements for fossil fuels and transport powered by fossil fuels.

It would seek to prohibit advertisements “from any undertakings active in the market for fossil fuels, in particular by extracting, refining, supplying, distributing or selling fossil fuels”.

Amsterdam in the Netherlands has already banned ads from fossil fuel and aviation companies in the city centre and at metro stations, while in France, a new climate bill proposed this year included a measure to ban advertising fossil fuels.

“These initiatives are great, but if we were to go one by one, city to city, government to government and wait for all of them to ban these advertisements and sponsorships, it would take a very long time,” Pastorelli said.

“Because of the urgency of the climate crisis, we really don’t have the luxury of time.”

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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