Italian regulators today fined Italy’s oil giant Eni over advertisements on TV and in newspapers, digital media and petrol stations that falsely claimed Eni Diesel+ was ‘green’. The watchdog states that the marketing campaign deceives consumers when it claims that the ‘green’ diesel has a positive impact on the environment, saves fuel and reduces air pollution. It is the first ruling against greenwashing in Italy’s history.
Italy’s Competition and Market Authority (all'Autorità Garante per la Concorrenza e il Mercato in Italian) inflicted the highest possible fine (5 million euros) on the state-backed energy giant. The agency told Eni not to use the advertisement again after a complaint was lodged by Italy’s consumer organisation Movimento Difesa del Citadino, environmental NGO Legambiente and Brussels-based campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E). The oil company has been running ads on TV, print and online platformssince 2016. The energy company withdrew the advertising campaigns months ago.
The watchdog’s decision delivers a blow to attempts by fossil fuel companies to portray biofuels to politicians and the public as environmentally friendly and part of the solution to climate change. The ruling follows three extensions requested by Eni to provide further information and data to prove their case.
Francesco Luongo, president of the consumers’ association Movimento Difesa del Cittadino, said: “Today’s Authority decision represents the first important sanction for ‘greenwashing’ over misleading advertising messages about how green a product really is. The protection of the environment is a fundamental challenge in the evolution of the global economy, as stated by the Green New Deal, approved yesterday by the EU Commission, and claims should not be distorted, or worse falsified, by companies through unscrupulous marketing that translates into unfair commercial practices to the detriment of consumers”,
Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente, said: “Today’s a historic decision because for the first time in Italy we officially talk about greenwashing and finally this big deceit against citizens, performed by one of greatest climate enemy, ENI, is exposed. The Authority proved we were right. But this is not enough. It’s high time for the Government to finally bet on truly sustainable development, starting right now and stop subsidies for palm oil diesel, until finally putting an end to all direct and indirect subsidies to those sectors causing climate change.”
Eni Diesel + is a new diesel fuel that is 15% composed of HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) from Eni’s Venice refinery. This ENI refinery makes HVO from crude palm oil and its derivatives, as shown by official data from the governmental energy agency Gestore Servizi Energetici.
The watchdog ruling states that “it’s particularly deceitful to use the denomination “Green Diesel’ and the qualifications ‘green’ and ‘renewable’ to refer to the HVO component of the product”, mainly because of the indirect land-use change emissions associated with palm oil use. It also argues that there's no justification or calculation that justifies the 40% reduction in air pollution.
Italian green NGOs urge the government to stop incentives for the use of palm oil in diesel, as over 50,000 Italians have requested already at www.change.org/unpienodipalle.
Italy is the second largest palm oil biodiesel producer in the European Union. More than half (54%) of all palm oil and derivatives imported into Italy in 2018 was used to make biodiesel, mainly at Eni’s refinery at Porto Marghera, Venice. The palm oil comes predominantly from Indonesia and, to a lesser extent, from Malaysia, two countries with notable deforestation rates in the past two decades.
Europe labelled palm oil in diesel as unsustainable
Europeans are increasingly eating less and less palm oil but are inadvertently burning more and more in cars and trucks. Last year 65% of all the palm oil imported into the EU was used for energy. 53% of all palm imports was used to make biodiesel for cars and trucks - an all-time high - and 12% to generate electricity and heating - another record.
Palm oil used for biodiesel grew again in 2018 - by 3% - while the use of palm oil to make food and animal feed dropped significantly, by 11%. This trend proves that the imported deforestation from palm oil is mainly driven by EU and national biofuels policy.
Last March, the EU decided that palm oil is not a green fuel and should not be promoted because it causes deforestation. The use of palm oil in diesel will be gradually reduced from 2023 and should reach zero in 2030, with some exemptions. Thus, Italy, like any other EU country, can amend today the national targets for renewable energy in transport to remove incentives for using palm oil and its derivatives in biodiesel,
Veronica Aneris, manager of Transport & Environment in Italy, said: “There is no such thing as green diesel made from palm oil or any other food crop because they cause deforestation. Oil companies need to stop trying to mislead drivers and politicians with the fake claim that biodiesel protects the environment and our health. Instead they should invest in proper clean fuels such as renewable electricity. The government should push oil companies to do their fair share to decarbonise the economy.”
Palm oil is known to be an important driver of the destruction of rainforests and wildlife. According to a study for the European Commission, biodiesel from palm oil is three times worse for the climate than regular diesel when indirect emissions from changes in the use of land are accounted for.