In 2021 and 2022 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) undertook a Climate Change and the Environment (CCE) project taking stock of the rules regulating environmental claims. This project consisted of three concurrent strands:
- Proactive regulation: proactively looking at environmental claims in several priority areas with a view to updating our position on emerging and existing themes and taking action against advertisers who use green claims in a way that is likely to mislead or cause harm.
- Standards fit for the 2020s: taking stock of how effective our rules and guidance are in governing environmental claims.
- Knowledge, education and communication: updating our existing resources to make them easily accessible, and creating new training materials and other educational resources to improve industry’s understanding and overall compliance with our rules on misleading and harmful environmental claims.
While this advice represents the current position, the ASA’s CCE project is now reviewing our approach to these issues, which may lead to further rulings and updates to this guidance.
Vehicle emissions, fuel consumption and the motor industry’s effect on and response to climate change have been high on press, public and government agendas. Marketers have recognised that many consumers are keen to choose cars and use fuels that, whether through their production methods, construction or use are less harmful to the environment. They often, therefore, focus on the comparative environmental benefits of their models in advertising.
- Fossil fuels
Advertisers making environmental claims in relation to fossil fuels or other products or services which are environmentally harmful should take particular care to fully explain and clarify their meaning. In 2020, a radio ad for Shell included the claim “Drive carbon-neutral by filling up and using Shell Go+ today. Make the change. Drive carbon-neutral”.
Shell explained that Shell Go+ was a loyalty scheme where the equivalent “well to wheel” emissions of the fuel production was later offset though nature-based projects. Because the ad did not adequately explain that this was a loyalty programme which consumers would have to actively sign up to, the ASA concluded that the ad was misleading, as it could be understood that Shell Go+ was a fuel for which Shell would offset emissions. (Shell UK Ltd, 8 July 2020).
It is worth noting that, in light of CAP and the ASA’s ongoing project work and consumer research programme looking at understanding of terms such as “carbon-neutral” and “offsetting”, it is possible that a stricter approach to the use of such terms might be taken in future. Guidance will be updated to reflect this, and the CAP Copy Advice team is on hand to offer advice on any proposed advertising copy.
Another fuel company was able to successfully demonstrate that claims about reduced emissions were compliant with the Code and unlikely to mislead consumers. Ads for BP Ultimate fuels across various media included claims such as “engines cleaned with new BP Ultimate Unleaded with ACTIVE technology could give you up to 21 more miles per tank” and “BP Ultimate could enable motorists to use less fuel for a journey so reducing CO2 equivalent emissions by up to 4%”. The ads included an explanation that the comparison being made was against RON 95 fuels, as well as more details of how the testing was conducted.
The advertiser provided substantive evidence of the testing methodology used, outlined in detail in the ruling, which the ASA deemed suitable and sufficient to substantiate the claims made. (BP Oil UK Ltd, 2 November 2019).
- Social responsibility
Complaints that an ad for an SUV showing it in natural surroundings were socially irresponsible and misleading were not upheld in 2021. A press ad included the line “LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS” which complainants believed implied the vehicle was above restrictions or rules, including those aimed at preventing further damage to the environment. The ASA also investigated whether the presentation of the car in a forest setting irresponsibly encouraged or condoned driving in such an ecologically sensitive setting, which would be detrimental to the environment.
The line ““LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS” was followed by “Understandably, there are still restrictions as life slowly gets back to normal. Not so with the Defender” and Jaguar Land Rover said that they intended the reference to ‘restrictions’ to be understood in the context of the challenges faced by consumers during COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. They also explained that the vehicle was shown on an established forest track, and they believed the ad did not encourage or condone use of vehicles in ecologically sensitive areas.
The ASA Council considered that the reference to restrictions could be understood either as a general claim about the vehicle’s ability to enable visiting different locations without restriction or – in conjunction with the reference to restrictions being lifted – to the easing of COVID-19 lockdown rules happening at the time the ad was published. As such, the ASA concluded that consumers would not infer that the vehicles were exempt from rules and laws intended to limit environmental damage or the effects of climate change.
The ruling goes on to discuss that the presentation of the vehicle on an unpaved road was unlikely to condone or encourage irresponsible use, highlighting that this type of road and vehicle use was representative of activity in rural areas. The ASA concluded that the presentation of the vehicle in this context was unlikely to encourage socially irresponsible behaviour. (Jaguar Land Rover Ltd, 24 November 2021).
Again, the position on issues such this is likely to develop, and ASA rulings may establish new precedent as CAP and the ASA’s environmental project work continues. Advertisers are urged to be cautious when using ‘green’ imagery or language which might imply a lack of environmental impact without clarifying the basis on which the claim is being made. Guidance will be updated to reflect this in due course.
- Fuel consumption and emissions
As a result of a European directive adopted by the UK government, ads in some media for new cars must contain information about their fuel consumption and CO2 output – including fully electric vehicles. The regulations are monitored in the UK by the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA), an executive agency of the Department for Transport. Guidance notes on the regulations can be found at Fuel Consumption & CO2 Databases | Vehicle Certification Agency.
The inclusion of that information does not mean, however, that marketers may exaggerate the efficiency of their cars. Marketers should take care when making comparisons about fuel consumption, range, and emissions at any stage of production or use.
For example, the ASA considered that the headline “HIGH PERFORMANCE. LOW EMISSIONS. ZERO GUILT” implied that a car had low emissions compared with all cars, not merely similar ones. Even though the body copy of the ad had stated “category-leading low CO2 emissions” and the consumption figures had been stated in a footnote, the ASA nevertheless considered the ad was misleading (Lexus (GB) Ltd, 23 May 2007).
The lesson in all the above cases is that marketers should not exaggerate the environmental credentials of their products, they should ensure the basis of their claims and their comparisons are clear and they should hold evidence for the claims that they make.
Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
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