Motoring: Zero emissions claims

Jul 9th '24

In 2021 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) launched a Climate Change and the Environment (CCE) project, to respond to the ongoing climate crisis and take action to ensure that environmental claims in advertising are not misleading or irresponsible. Updates about the work in this area are published here


The project consists of several strands, including:


  • Sector-specific reviews, focusing on previous ASA work on these issues, common claims in ads for these sectors, and any recent legislation or developments in understanding of their environmental impacts
  • Research into consumer understanding of different types of environmental claims
  • Targeted investigations, to establish new precedent and take action against advertisers who use green claims in a way that is likely to mislead or cause harm
  • Updates to our existing resources, and creation of new educational material


Please see the updated CAP Advertising Guidance on The environment: misleading claims and social responsibility in advertising, and the new e-learning module that covers the rules on Climate Change and the Environment


While this advice represents the current position, the ASA’s CCE project is actively reviewing our approach to these issues, which may lead to further rulings and updates to this guidance.


Claims such as “zero emissions” are likely to be acceptable in ads for purely electrically-powered vehicles providing it is made clear that this applies only while driving, and the lack of resultant emissions from the powertrain. It is important, however, to avoid suggesting that no emissions result from the vehicle at all.


In 2023 and 2024 the ASA launched proactive investigations into three ads, identified through monitoring of ads in the hybrid and electric vehicle sector, as part of its wider Climate Change and the Environment project work. The rulings published on completion of the investigations aim to give clarity on how such claims should be presented.


Two of these ads were found to have breached the Code when the ASA investigated whether they misleadingly presented the vehicles’ environmental impact.


The first, a paid ad appearing in search results, included the claim “Zero Emissions Cars – Download Your Brochure Today” and, further on, “Find the perfect BMW electric car…Explore a range of BMW electric cars…” The advertiser, in their response, explained that this was a term they had bid on to target consumers who had searched for similar terms.


The ASA concluded that the claim, presented in this context, would likely be understood as promoting the range of electric cars offered by BMW, and the assumption would be that these cars produced no emissions in all circumstances.


Given that emissions would be generated during the life-cycle of the vehicles, for example during manufacture and as a result of being charged through the National Grid, the claim “Zero Emissions Cars” was considered misleading. The ruling highlights that this decision was arrived at because material information about what the claim was based on was not included, nor any explain that the claim was meant to refer only to the cars’ emissions while being driven. (BMW (UK) Ltd, 7 February 2024).


Another paid for search engine ad investigated included the text “…MG HS Plug-in Hybrid, MG ZS or MG5 EV Trophy Long Range Renewed with a modern design, increased range, and even more technology. Zero Emissions”. Again, the ASA investigated whether the claim “Zero Emissions” gave a misleading impression of the vehicles’ environmental impact.


In this case, the ruling noted that the particular cars mentioned had different powertrains: the HS Plug-in Hybrid featured a petrol engine working in conjunction with an electric motor; the ZS was available as both a purely petrol-powered model and as a fully electric vehicle, while the MG5 was solely available as an electrically powered. Again, the ASA noted that emissions would be generated throughout the lifecycle of the vehicles, with the pure electric models generating emissions during manufacture and through the production of the electricity needed to charge them through the National Grid.


The ruling in this case highlights both the need to make this fact clear when referring to models solely powered by electricity, but also the need to provide clear delineation between such models and those which are either solely or partially powered by petrol or diesel powertrains. Because the claim “Zero Emissions” was made here without making clear that this only referred to the car while it was being driven, and because it did not make clear that the claim also only referred to some of the cars mentioned in the ad, the ASA concluded that the ad was misleading. (MG Motor UK Ltd, 7 February 2024).


The final ad investigated as part of this strand of work was for Ford’s Explorer electric SUV and included the claim “Zero-emissions driving. Fast Charging. Driver Assistance Tech”, which was deemed to be compliant with the Code.


As in the cases discussed above, the ASA investigated whether the claim misleadingly represented the vehicle’s environmental impact.


In this example, the ASA concluded the presentation of the claim was not misleading. While noting that in isolation “Zero-emissions driving” was ambiguous, the fact that it was immediately followed by other claims which placed it in the context of specific features and abilities of the car (“Fast Charging” and “Driver Assisted Tech”) more clearly explained the term. In this particular context, therefore, “Zero-emissions driving” was unlikely to be understood as a wider comment on the vehicle’s lifecycle emissions. (Ford Motor Company Ltd, 7 February 2024).


Source: CAP


About CAP

The CAP is the sister organisation of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and is responsible for writing the Advertising Codes.


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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