If an ad features a complex issue, or a potential serious breach of the Codes, then the ASA may carry out a formal investigation. The ASA Council is the independent jury that decides whether or not there has been a breach of the Advertising Codes and will ultimately decide the final ruling. Rulings are issued weekly and are available on the ASA website every Wednesday. These rulings set a precedent that all advertisers have to follow, and will be taken into consideration for future rulings. 

Here are some recent, particularly significant rulings on ads that were considered environmentally misleading or socially irresponsible –

  • An online display ad on a newspaper website for a global energy company. The complainants challenged whether the ad’s claims regarding the development of biofuels and synthetic fuels to achieve net zero emissions were misleading because it omitted significant information about their fossil fuel production activities. The ASA challenged whether the basis of the claim was clear. The ASA understood the advertiser’s focus on the production of biofuels and synthetic fuels to achieve net zero emissions was a fraction of their business activities when compared to their substantial, ongoing, and expanding fossil fuel production. They were continuing to emit notable levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses and would do so for many years into the future. Because information about how and when net zero emissions would be achieved, including the timeframe of 2050 to achieve that goal, was material information which was omitted from the ad, and the basis of the claim had not been made clear, the ad was misleading. (Repsol SA, 07 June 2023)
  • Poster, TV and YouTube ads were challenged by complainants who believed they omitted significant information about the overall environmental impact of Shell’s business activities in light of their ongoing fossil fuel production. The complainants also challenged whether the claims about the number of homes which used 100% renewable electricity from Shell was misrepresented and implied that they directly supplied energy to the homes in each region. The ASA considered that ads were likely to mislead consumers if they misrepresented the contribution that lower-carbon initiatives played, or would play in the near future, as part of the overall balance of a company's activities. The ASA acknowledged that Shell was taking steps were being taken towards net zero and promoting sustainable energy. However large-scale oil, gas investment and extraction comprised the vast majority of the company’s business model in 2022 and would continue to do so in the near future. Because the ads gave the overall impression that a significant proportion of their business comprised lower-carbon energy products, further information about the proportion of their overall business model that comprised lower-carbon energy products was material information that should have been included in the ad. The omission of that information was likely to be misleading. On the second point, because the ads made clear that the electricity was supplied via the National Grid rather than directly, the ASA did not uphold that point of the complaint. (Shell UK Ltd t/a Shell, 07 June 2023)
  • The complainants challenged whether the TV ad was misleading, because it omitted significant information about the advertiser’s history of releasing sewage into the environment. According to Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) reports, there were areas of performance below target. However, the ASA understood that the advertiser’s recent overall environmental performance was good and did not contradict the overall impression of the ad that they were making a positive overall environmental contribution as a company. In view of that, we did not consider that their history of releasing sewage into the environment was material information that needed to be included in the ad to prevent viewers from being misled. The complaint was not upheld.  (Severn Trent Water Ltd, 14 June 2023)
  • TV and VOD ads were investigated regarding whether the ads omitted significant information about the advertiser’s history of releasing sewage into the environment. Their Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) stated that they had performed below target for the number of sewerage pollution incidents and for their compliance with their discharge permit. Their performance was significantly below target for the number of serious pollution incidents, and they had enforcement action against them on multiple occasions in recent years for Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR) offences. The ASA considered that although Anglian Water were carrying out a number of activities that could have a positive impact on the environment, they also carried out activities that caused harm to the environment, which contradicted the overall positive impression of the ad and should have been made clear in the ads. Because the ads omitted that material information, they were misleading.(Anglian Water Services Ltd t/a Anglian Water, 14 June 2023)
  • The ASA challenged whether a TV ad misleadingly exaggerated the total environmental benefit of the advertiser's products and services. The ASA considered viewers would understand the ad’s claim to mean that the advertiser was already an energy company that was contributing to a sustainable future by making progress towards emissions reductions and growing the use of renewable energy. The ad also suggested they were now primarily focused on positive environmental activities which were already having a positive overall impact today and would lead to net zero by 2050. While we acknowledged consumers would recognise that companies in the oil industry were likely to be higher emitters of greenhouse gases, we did not consider they would understand the extent of Petronas’ continuing significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions given the presentation and claims in the ad. The ASA concluded that information about the balance of their current activities and emissions and the pathway to reducing them in line with the claims made in the ad, was material information likely to affect consumers’ understanding of the ad’s overall message that should have been made clear in the ad. The ad was therefore misleading. (Petroliam Nasional Berhad t/a PETRONAS, 7 June 2023)
  • In October 2022 the ASA considered ads for a bank were misleading by omitting material information that would affect a consumers’ understanding of the overall message. While the ASA acknowledged that the initiatives highlighted in the ads were environmentally beneficial, the advertiser was continuing to significantly finance investments in businesses and industries that emitted notable levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. (HSBC UK Bank plc, 19 October 2022)
  • The claim “A car so beautifully clean, it purifies the air as it goes”, had not been adequately substantiated, and so the ASA concluded the ad was misleading. While the Hyundai NEXO, which would filter the air before it was used in its hydrogen fuel cell, particulates from brake and tyre wear could still be released into the air and would not necessarily be removed by the car. (Hyundai Motor UK Ltd, 9 June 2021)
  • The ASA considered the basis of the claim “GOOD FOR THE PLANET” was not made clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information. They considered the claim could be interpreted in more than one way and so the ad was ambiguous between those different interpretations. (Alpro (UK) Ltd, 20 October 2021)
  • The ASA found that the claims “plastic free” in one ad and “Zero plastic” in another were misleading. The ASA considered that consumers would interpret the claims “plastic free” and “zero plastic” to mean that the product packaging did not contain any plastic. The ASA received no information about the make-up of the product packaging and, so in the absence of such evidence, concluded that the claims had not been substantiated and were therefore misleading. (Class Delta Ltd t/a abnormal, 24 November 2021)
  • An ad for an e-scooter hire scheme said “Be environmentally … friendly. Take a TIER”. The ASA considered the claim “be environmentally friendly” was an absolute claim and would be understood to mean that the scheme caused no environmental damage over the full lifecycle of the scheme. Lifecycle assessment papers (LCA) highlighted the global warming impact associated with the use of aluminium parts in the production, and that the electric scooter was manufactured in China and was transported to Europe via container ship, truck, rail and airplane, all of which had varying amounts of emission factors. Therefore the evidence provided did not demonstrate that the Tier E-Scooter scheme caused no environmental damage over its full lifecycle. (TIER Operations Ltd, 06 April 2022)
  • Twitter and Facebook ads included the claim “The dairy and meat industries emit more CO2e than all the world’s planes, trains, cars, boats etc., combined”. The ASA considered that, in the absence of qualification, consumers would understand that the comparison (between the transport industry and the meat and dairy industry) was based on an equivalent and full life cycle comparison of the emissions from those industries. The evidence for the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry took into account the full life cycle, whereas the evidence for the transport industry took into account part of the life cycle; accounting only for the emissions coming directly from using the vehicle. Because the claim would be understood by consumers as based on equivalent and full life cycle analyses when that was not the case, the ASA considered the claim was misleading. (Oatly UK Ltd t/a Oatly, 26 January 2022)

  • Poster ad showing a bottle of Lipton Ice Tea, with the headline claim “100% RECYCLED*” and the small print qualification “Bottle made from recycled plastic, excludes cap and label”. The ASA considered consumers would understand the claim “100% RECYCLED*” to mean that all components of the bottle (i.e. the bottle, cap and label) were made entirely from recycled materials and the claim was therefore misleading. (Pepsi Lipton International, 19 January 2022)

  • A TV ad for bottled water featured the claims “100% recycled … bottle”, “eco-friendly cap” and “it’s nature friendly”. While the advertiser felt that this would apply to only the bottle, the ASA considered that consumers would understand this to apply to the cap and label as well. Therefore the claim “100% recycled bottle” would only be considered acceptable if all the components of the bottle were recycled. The ASA also ruled that ads should not overstate the environmental benefit of a brand and products, and so should not claim that products made of plastic were “eco-friendly” or “nature friendly”. (Roxane UK Ltd19 January 2022)
  • The ASA investigated an ad in which the overall presentation of the ad implied that purchasing the product was a choice which would have a positive environmental impact. The ad firstly presented a depiction of a damaged planet and brown food. It then switched to imagery of the planet being ‘fixed up’ whilst Innocent drinks are being consumed alongside images of Innocent products, depicting people and animals relaxing in a green environment. We considered that this implied there was a direct association between choosing Innocent drinks and taking positive action to help the environment. This was reinforced by the lyrics “Let’s get fixing up the planet. Fix it up real good …” and “Reduce. Re-use. Recycle. Because there is no planet B. If we’re looking after nature she’ll be looking after me”. As the ads implied that purchasing Innocent products was a choice which would have a positive environmental impact when that was not the case it was concluded that the ads were misleading. (Innocent Ltd t/a Innocent, 23 February 2022)
  • Ads for “eco-friendly artificial grass” which claimed to purify air and reduce nitrogen oxide emissions with an equivalence to planting trees were found to be misleading. The advertiser claimed that the product could reduce harmful NOx emissions by up to 70%, and that 1m2 had the air purifying effect of one mature tree. The ASA considered the claim “eco-friendly” to be absolute, suggesting that the product was not harmful to the environment at any point throughout its lifecycle. The advertiser provided evidence to show their transition to more environmentally friendly production and transportation methods but was not able to demonstrate that the product caused no environmental damage at all during its lifecycle. Evidence provided did not substantiate the claim that use of the product could remove 70% of NOx particulates from the surrounding air. (Evergreens (UK) Ltd, 8 June 2022).

  • A website advertising magnet technology for boilers which claimed that the products saved energy, would result in fewer emissions and therefore reduce a user’s carbon footprint was considered misleading. The advertiser presented evidence which it believed substantiated the claims, but this was not deemed sufficient to substantiate the claims made. As part of its rationale of upholding the complaint, the ASA noted that some of the studies submitted did not relate to the advertised product, that some evidence (which focused on internal combustion engines) suggested there was no scientific consensus on whether the use of magnets could affect carbon emissions, and that other evidence which did relate to the advertiser’s products did not show a decrease in carbon emissions. (Magnatech Technology Ltd, 25 May 2022).

  • A poster, seen on the London Underground featured the claim “People & planet-friendly small group adventures since 1989”. The ad featured two women in front of the Giza pyramids in Egypt. The ASA considered that the claim “planet-friendly” was an absolute claim and would be understood to mean that taking part in such a tour would cause no environmental damage through its full life cycle. The ASA noted that Intrepid Travel did not offer flights as part of their packages. Notwithstanding this, the presentation of the ad indicated such tours were international and it would be necessary to travel, in most cases by flying, in order to take part. Because air travel produces high levels of emissions, which make a substantial contribution to climate change, and those emissions were not accounted for by Intrepid Travel, the ASA considered that the absolute claim “people & planet-friendly adventures” had not been adequately substantiated. (Intrepid Travel Group UK Ltd, 31 May 2023)

  • Two Facebook Ads featured the claim “we are taking a louder, bolder approach to sustainable aviation”. The ASA considered the claim “sustainable aviation” was an absolute claim. Whilst the ASA noted steps were being taken to reduce the environmental impact of the service, they understood there were currently no initiatives in operation within the aviation industry which would adequately substantiate an absolute green claim such as “sustainable aviation”. (Etihad Airways, 12 April 2023)

  • A poster featuring the claim “Connecting the World. Protecting its future”, superimposed on an image of a plane in flight; the underside was represented by an image of the earth. In the context presented, the ASA considered the claim “protecting its future” was an absolute claim. Whilst the ASA noted initiatives were in place, targets to deliver them were years or decades into the future. They understood there were currently no initiatives in operation within the aviation industry which would adequately substantiate an absolute green claim such as “protecting its future”. (Deutsche Lufthansa AG t/a Lufthansa, 01 March 2023)

  • A tweet from Twitter for a product called Soul “Eco-grass”. The ASA considered that the inclusion of the word “eco” in the name of the product and the context which it was presented implied that the product was “eco-friendly” – and as such an absolute claim. In the absence of evidence to demonstrate that the product had a positive environmental impact across its full life cycle, the ASA concluded the ad was misleading. (Perfectly Green Ltd, 09 November 2022)

  • A TV, video on demand (VOD), radio, press ad, tweet and website for Tesco’s ‘Plant Chef’ range. The complainants challenged whether these claims: “a little swap can make a difference to the planet”, “even better for the planet” and “a little swap is […] even better for the planet” were misleading and could be substantiated. The ASA considered that because the ads implied that switching to Plant Chef products were positively impact the environment, we’d expect to see evidence that this was the case based on the full life-cycle of the products (compared to the meat products). Tesco were unable to provide this so we considered the claims had not been substantiated and were likely to mislead. (Tesco, 8 June 2022)

  • A TV and radio ad for Sainsbury’s. The complainants challenged whether the claims that these were ‘better for the planet’ or would ‘help the planet’ were misleading and could be substantiated, as they understood the chickpeas, lentils and beans featured were grown and imported from abroad. Both ads contained a URL to the Sainsbury’s ‘Helping everyone eat better’ campaign which contained articles about the environmental benefits of lentils, chickpeas and beans. The ASA considered both ads were promoting the general benefits to the environment of reducing meat protein in substitution of plant protein and so considered they were not misleading. (Sainsbury's, 8 June 2022)

  • Two Facebook posts for a dog food brand were investigated for making claims which implied that a plant-based diet was healthier for dogs than a meat-based diet, and that their products made “for a healthier … planet” and were “Better for The Planet”. Studies provided as evidence in support of a plant-based diet relied on owners’ perceptions of their pets health, the majority of whom had no veterinary training or skills to assess the health of their pets. Life cycle analysis comparing CO2e emissions for plant-based food with meat-based alternatives, omitted to include the disposal of the product’s packaging in its analysis and therefore did not cover the full life cycle of the product. The ASA ruled that the evidence was inadequate to substantiate the claims (THE PACK PET Limited, 2 November 2022)

  • Ads for an electric toothbrush manufacturer featured the claims “100% Plant-Based Materials”, “made from […] materials that are both recyclable & biodegradable”, “#NoPlastic”, “Eco Friendly” and “Sustainably Sourced.” The ASA was not provided with any evidence to support that all the materials used in the product could either be recycled or were biodegradable, and the ads did not include any information on how to dispose of the product. The unqualified “Eco-friendly” claims would be understood by consumers to mean that, across its entire life cycle, the advertised product would have either no detrimental impact or an overall positive impact on the environment. Because none of the claims had been substantiated, the ASA concluded that they were misleading. (Bambooi Sustainable Enterprises Ltd t/a Bambooi, 26 October 2022)

  • A product listing for baby wipes on Amazon claimed the “wipes break down quickly after they are thrown away; in as little as 15 days; even in landfill conditions” and were “100% biodegradeable.” Test reports provided did not replicate the conditions consistently found when home composting and showed that the wipe was not completely biodegraded within 15 days. Further, the ASA understood that when the wipe biodegraded in landfill anaerobically, it emitted methane - a highly potent greenhouse gas, which if released into the atmosphere contributed to global warming. The ASA considered that the disposal of the wipe could have a negative impact on the environment. (Q River Ltd, 19 October 2022)

  • A paid-for Google ad for 4AIR which included the claims “Eco-Friendly Aviation”, “Sustainable Aviation”; and “Turn Flying Into A Force For Good.” The ASA challenged whether the claims gave a misleading impression of the environmental impact of the service.

  • A paid-for Google ad for 4AIR which included the claims “Eco-Friendly Aviation”, “Sustainable Aviation”; and “Turn Flying Into A Force For Good.” The ASA challenged whether the claims gave a misleading impression of the environmental impact of the service.

    The ASA considered that the claims would be understood by businesses to mean that 4AIR offered services which ensured aviation operations did not cause environmental damage and that businesses could have an immediate positive impact on the environment by using their services. We, therefore expected to see a high level of substantiation to support these claims. 

    We acknowledged that Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) produced lower emissions than traditional fuel, however it still produced high levels of Co2 which contributed to climate change. We also noted that 4AIR offered businesses the chance to support research into future technologies related to reducing the negative environmental impact of the aviation industry, but we considered the results of this would not be delivered for decades and so was not sufficient in supporting the claims. We also understood that, at the time of the ad, there were no initiatives in operation within the aviation industry which would adequately substantiate the claims. 

    We concluded that the claims were likely to mislead businesses in relation to 4AIR’s capability to ensure that aviation operations which purchased its services did not negatively impact the environment, and the ad therefore breached the Code. (4AIR LLC, 30 August 2023)

  • Two TV ads featured the claims “Fuelled by petrol, driven by electric” and “no need to plug in”. The ad featured stylised footage of a car driving through a city, with a spark trailing behind. The spark had leapt from an electrical transmission tower.
    The ASA considered that viewers would understand the ads to mean that the new electric technology did not require the car to be plugged in in the same way as other electric powered vehicles.

    Furthermore, whilst the ad did not include any explicit claims in relation to the car’s environmental impact, the ASA considered that by focusing on the car’s use of electricity, consumers were likely to understand the car was a better environmental choice.
    Because the ad did not make sufficiently clear the extent to which the car required petrol to power the electric motor, the ASA concluded the ad was misleading. (Nissan Motor (GB) Ltd, 18 Oct 2023)

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