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 Advertising Standards Authority.

In 2021 the ASA and 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 our 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.

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 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).

However, an ad on social media investigated in 2023 was found to breach the CAP Code rule on social responsibility, by encouraging irresponsible behaviour towards the environment. The ad showed several models of Toyota’s Hilux pickup moving, in the manner of a swarm, through a wide plain with mountains on either side, before joining a tarmacked road. It also presented the vehicles driving through a cityscape and parked in a natural, rocky environment. The ad ended with the line “Born to Roam”. In this case, the ASA noted that the vehicles were shown driving in what could reflect real-life situations, on both made and unmade roads, and that the style and language used in the ad suggested driving through off-road environments and natural ecosystem, without obvious purpose or need. As such, it considered the ad condoned the use of vehicles in a way which could disregard their impact on nature and the environment (Toyota (GB) plc, 22 November 2023).

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. See Motoring: Fuel consumption, emissions and range figuresMotoring: Zero emissions claimsMotoring: Hybrid and electric vehicles, Environmental: General “Green” claims and Advertising Guidance: misleading environmental claims and social responsibility.

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