Vattenfall creates image with boomerang effect

Energy company Vattenfall is launching a new international sustainability campaign this summer starring model, Hollywood actress and self-proclaimed ‘eco-warrior’ Cara Delevingne. In this commercial, Vattenfall wants to show, with a facial spray based on industrial emissions, that their emissions are clean and sustainable. The Dutch nature NGO, Clean Air Committee (CSL), this week published a new version of the Vattenfall commercial with the, according to CSL, ‘real story’. According to CSL, the emissions from Vattenfall’s current mix of used fuels, mainly biomass and gas, are not clean and the multinational is again guilty of “large-scale greenwashing”. The measure is full. CSL is considering legal action. The version is doing well on social media.

Talking to citizens

Both Vattenfall and actress Delevingne indicate on their website that “this will get people talking.” It certainly does. The question is whether this will happen in the way they envisioned. Hydrogen for energy is anything but ‘clean’ and certainly not harmless. Since 2018, CSL has been calling on Vattenfall to engage in dialogue through letters, videos and playful actions. To date, Vattenfall has not addressed this or repeated the same sound bites that do not lead to dialogue, let alone change. It is therefore time for other steps, says Fenna Swart of CSL.


Vattenfall has been working hard for some time now with expensive, international campaigns in which the sustainability of their industry is claimed. New in the current campaign is the ‘glamorous’ approach in collaboration with a Hollywood star. According to CSL, a citizens’ initiative that has been campaigning against industrial emissions at home and abroad since 2018, and against biomass plants in particular, it is ‘highly undesirable to advertise such a controversial and complex subject in a misleading manner, in which major political and economic interests are involved.’

Greenwashing is about misleading consumers about sustainability benefits. From legal point of view, there are laws  and guidelines that determine when there is ‘deception’ when it comes to sustainability. If that is the case, it can be ordered that there is no more deception or that a fine is demanded become. Companies may choose to accept such a risk if the return exceeds the damage. And that happens regularly, as we have seen for some time at Vattenfall. Vattenfall: ‘we don’t do anything that society doesn’t want’.

In the Netherlands, Vattenfall has been litigating against Dutch nature NGOs (including Clean Air Committee and MOB) before the Council of State for 2.5 years to win its biomass case. Anna Borg, CEO of Vattenfall has indicated that she does not want to do anything without support from society. Meanwhile, the battle continues to build the largest biomass power plant in the Netherlands in Diemen, paid for by the Dutch taxpayer with 395 million government subsidies. The focus is on a substantial increase in energy production through biomass firing. Not only in the Netherlands, but also in Denmark, Germany and Sweden, Vattenfall wants to at least double the use of biomass.

Further information for the press

Fenna Swart, Chairman of the Clean Air Committee, Telephone: +31 (0) 641514330

Context and background

The vast majority of hydrogen from fossil fuels and from chemistry
Vattenfall pretends to be the first to recognize green hydrogen as the energy of the future, but politicians and the energy sector are also talking about it. It also sounds nice and promising: hydrogen does not release CO2 and it can be produced with electricity from simple water. However, there is a problem: hydrogen is only climate-friendly if it is generated entirely from green electricity, according to CSL. Most hydrogen production still comes from fossil fuels or as a by-product of chemical processes, such as heavy oil processing. In addition, there is the so-called gray hydrogen, which is extracted from natural gas using steam, which is just as harmful as the extraction from heavy oil. But ‘green’ hydrogen, which, unlike hydrogen from fossil fuels, does not emit carbon, also has major drawbacks: the enormous amount of renewable energy required to produce it.

PR stunt
The new commercial, according to CSL, appears to be nothing more than a PR stunt, intended to profile Vattenfall as a green and climate-conscious company. Vattenfall’s website states: “Hydrogen has the potential to reduce CO₂ emissions in industries such as refining, petrochemicals, steel and transport.” However, it is a picture with a boomerang effect. The public awareness that Vattenfall – like many other energy companies – misuses hydrogen for its own gain and a clean image was probably not the aim of the campaign, according to the Clean Air Committee.

Hydrogen energy carrier
According to CSL, hydrogen is only an energy carrier: it must first be produced and is therefore inefficient and expensive. Vattenfall also ignores the fact that more than 90 percent of the hydrogen consumed worldwide is produced with fossil energy. To be truly green and clean, renewable energy must be applied immediately.

Cara Delevingne
Normally, the British Delevingne appears in commercials for luxury brands such as Chanel or Yves St. Laurent, but in the Vattenfall commercial she walks past huge tanks through a power station, spraying herself with a Vattenfall facial spray. The facial spray consists of waste water from a Vattenfall power plant. “Industrial emissions – clean enough to spray in your face,” says Delevingne.