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Saudi state oil company Aramco allegedly made misleading claims about sustainable fuel use in Formula One. Four climate action groups filed complaints with advertising watchdogs in the Netherlands and the UK in February 2024.

The Saudi state oil company has presented itself as a “champion of renewable fuels” in ads about Formula 1 in the British Financial Times newspaper, according to the four campaign groups. However, Fossil Free Football, Advertising Fossil Free (Reclame Fossielvrij), Advertising Hunters (Reclamejagers) in the Netherlands and the British New Weather Institute argue that Aramco hardly produces that fuel.

The Financial Times has also been identified as a “co-defendant” in the complaints because the newspaper produced and distributed the ads. According to the petitioners, Aramco made “unsubstantiated” claims in the ad about developing clean fuels for Formula 1, among other things. The company is a sponsor of the top racing class and Aston Martin's team. The climate activists are calling on Aramco to retract terms used such as “advanced,” “low carbon fuel” and “sustainable.

Those terms would be “confusing” and the associated environmental claims “misleading,” according to the complainants. Aramco allegedly presented sustainable fuels as a “solution to the CO2 problem” in a series of advertising campaigns. Climate experts and scientists argue the opposite, according to the campaign groups, because of the large amount of energy required to produce clean fuels. In the press release, the climate action groups quote from a report by climate panel IPCC as evidence, among other things.

0.0004 percent of production is sustainable

The petitioners additionally denounce Aramco because Formula 1 has some one and a half billion followers worldwide. As a result, misleading claims about sustainability directly reach a huge audience. Aramco also failed to mention how much revenue the company derives from green fuels. Aramco produces 35 barrels of that per day, according to its own website. That's 0.0004 percent of its daily total - about nine million barrels of oil.

According to Frank Huisingh, founder of Fossil Free Football, Aramco poses a “direct threat to the viability of the planet. “Big oil companies are very unpopular, which is why they spend hundreds of millions on public relations and like to associate themselves with the sports we love. That in itself is bad enough. That they lie to us about what they actually do makes it even worse.”

Precedent

There are precedents among advertising watchdogs that speak in favor of climate action groups. Britain's advertising watchdog previously took the Financial Times to task, following complaints about a misleading ad campaign by oil and gas company Repsol. That company also claimed in the ad to produce sustainable fuels. That turned out not to be the case. The advertising watchdog banned Repsol's ads.

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