Eni fined by antitrust watchdog in Italy's first 'greenwashing' case

17 January 2020 8:02am

15 January 2020 by Giulia Bedini

Italian state-backed energy giant Eni has been fined 5 million euros ($5.6 million) by the national antitrust regulator for a misleading marketing campaign for its "Diesel+" fuel, the watchdog said today, in the country's first-ever ruling against "greenwashing."

The authority said that by calling the product "green diesel" and by stressing its "renewable component" throughout ads, the company was unlawfully playing up the fuel's potential in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions reduction and thus deceiving consumers.

"The deceptiveness of the messages stemmed primarily from the confusion between the product advertised as EniDiesel+ and its HVO — hydrotreated vegetable oil — a biodiesel component called by Eni 'green' diesel, attributing to the product as a whole environmental claims that were not found to be well-founded," the regulator said in a statement on 15 January.

The authority also said that some of characteristics of the fuel flagged as "green" were not confirmed by its preliminary findings, especially concerning its actual ability to prompt harmful emissions cuts.

Eni's "Diesel+" is a diesel fuel which contains at least 15 percent of HVO which, in turn, is made from crude palm oil and derivatives.

Last year, the EU decided that palm oil is not a "sustainable" fuel and shouldn't be promoted as such since it causes deforestation in countries that produce it. The use of palm oil for diesel production will be phased out by 2030 across the bloc, with a few exceptions.

The advertised reductions of gaseous emissions of "up to 40 percent" and of "5 percent on average" for carbon dioxide emissions were found to be "only partial" and erroneously attributed to the HVO component of the fuel called "green" by the company, the watchdog said, adding that, as a transport diesel, the product is "by its nature" highly polluting and thus cannot be considered "green."

The fine is a clear victory for a group of environmental and consumers associations, including Transport & Environment, which had lodged a complaint against the oil giant to the authority in February 2019 lamenting its "misleading advertising practices."

The Italian watchdog later classified the issue as an "unfair commercial practice" allowing itself to impose a fine on the company.

"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," T&E said in a statement.

This was the regulator's first decision related to "greenwashing," which refers to the practice of companies trying to attract consumers by making claims that their products are environmentally sound or have energy-saving benefits.

Eni said in a statement that it has received the authority's decision "with great surprise." During the probe, Eni suspended the marketing campaign and stopped using the word "green" for auto fuels, the regulator said.

Eni can appeal the watchdog's decision to the Regional Administrative Court of Lazio.