A TV ad and video on demand (VOD) ad for Anglian Water:
a. The TV ad, seen in September and October 2022, featured a girl who said “Right now Anglian Water is creating wetlands to clean water using nature and make homes for wildlife. By building a really long pipe to bring water to places that need it most, while protecting nature too. And huge tanks to collect rain so there’s less chance of floods in the future. In fact, everything they do today is for tomorrow …” A male voice-over said, “Never still, never stop. Anglian Water. Love every drop.” The ad included various scenes of a wetland and the wildlife living there, fields and wildlife, tanks collecting rainwater, a wind turbine, and an Anglian Water van with text on the side that stated “100% Electric 0% Emissions”.
b. The VOD ad, seen on 15 September 2022, was the same as ad (a).
IssueNine complainants challenged whether the ads were misleading, because they omitted significant information about Anglian Water’s history of releasing sewage into the environment.
Anglian Water Service Ltd (Anglian Water) said that the water industry was a regulated monopoly which meant that domestic customers did not have a choice over their supplier. They felt it was their obligation to elicit customer support for the changes Anglian Water wanted to see in their region, for example, helping customers save water and avoid sewer abuse.
They did not believe that the ads were misleading. The ads included a number of initiatives that showed where Anglian Water were investing in environmental protection and improvement for the long term. The ads were part of a wider, multi-media and multi-channel campaign which explained each initiative and presented a more complete picture of the impact Anglian Water had on the environment, and how they were taking steps to reduce it where it may have been detrimental. The campaign also included addressing criticism aimed at both Anglian Water and the industry more generally regarding perceptions of environmental performance.
They worked within the parameters, and often exceeded the expectations, of those who regulated the industry, including the Environment Agency, the Drinking Water Inspectorate, Natural England, the Water Services Regulation Authority (OFWAT) and the Consumer Council for Water.
They provided links to a number of their press releases and pages on their website that they said substantiated the initiatives referenced in the ads.
They believed that they had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the environment when all their activities were taken into account and they did not believe that any significant information had been omitted from the campaign, of which the ads were a part.
They acknowledged that there had been active public debates about legacy assets such as combined storm overflows (CSOs), but said that they did not construct these anymore. The work that they did on CSOs was targeted at either removing them or reducing the frequency that they were used. They were sympathetic to the suggestion that CSOs were not an appropriate way to handle the increasingly intense rainfall that was experienced as a consequence of climate change, however, they were just one of the reasons why rivers fell short of the Environment Agency’s ‘Good Ecological Status’. CSOs accounted for only around 4% of the reasons rivers failed to meet this status nationally, and less than 1% of the reasons in the Anglian Water region.
It was incorrect for media coverage to conclude that use of CSOs would always result in environmental harm, was always illegal, or was something the company actively sought to do.
Anglian Water did not actively dump sewage into rivers and seas. Large tracts of the existing sewage network carried both surface water (e.g., rainwater) and wastewater (e.g., from homes and businesses) to Anglian Water recycling centres before it was cleaned and returned to the environment. Where exceptional storm events occurred, which could overwhelm the network, to avoid homes flooding the discharges to the environment compromised highly diluted sewage. This had a negligible environmental impact on the receiving watercourse and was permitted by the Environmental Agency.
Sewers had not been built like this for years, since well before Anglian Water came into existence when the water industry was privatised in 1989. Since then, Anglian Water had acted to reduce the number of CSOs and the frequency they operated. However, until they could be eradicated, they acted as a necessary safety valve in old sewerage systems to protect homes and businesses from flooding during heavy rainfall.
As there would be no future for the region or for those who lived and worked there without a sustainable supply of water and a healthy environment, they believed it was true to say that all the work they were actively engaged in was to secure a more prosperous future for the region.
Clearcast endorsed Anglian Water’s comments. They ensured that they had evidence for all the claims made regarding the improvements and structures Anglian Water were putting in place, including how they would prove to be a benefit. They were satisfied that Anglian Water’s plan of action would help in the future.
They believed that the claim “everything they do today is for tomorrow” was referencing the initiatives that were discussed within the advert, and that those were very obviously pointed out. Referring to a news article that discussed Anglian Water’s river sewage discharges, Clearcast said that it was not relevant to the ads because they were clearly about Anglian Water’s future aims and the initiatives they were putting in place to help make the service better.
They provided copies of a number of press releases and pages on the Anglian Water website that they believed substantiated the initiates referenced in the ad.
The CAP and BCAP Codes required that the basis of environmental claims must be clear, and that unqualified claims could mislead if they omitted significant information.
The ads stated “Right now Anglian Water is creating wetlands to clean water using nature and make homes for wildlife. By building a really long pipe to bring water to places that need it most, while protecting nature too. And huge tanks to collect rain so there’s less chance of floods in the future. In fact, everything they do today is for tomorrow”.
We considered that the overall impression of the ad was that Anglian Water was making, and intended to make, a positive overall environmental contribution as a company. As part of that contribution, they were increasing their pipe network, cleaning water using nature and installing tanks to collect storm water, which would have positive benefits for wildlife and nature. We considered that the voice-over, which stated, “In fact, everything they do today is for tomorrow” and the visuals used in the ads, which included various clips of green spaces, trees and wildlife, contributed to that impression.
The complainants were concerned because they understood that Anglian Water had a history of dumping sewage into rivers and the sea, had killed fish and wildlife as a result, and had been fined because of those actions.
All water companies had licences and permits that they were required to comply with to reduce their impact and protect the water environment. The Environment Agency stated that storm overflows were a necessary part of the current sewerage system. Water companies discharged storm sewage (wastewater diluted with rainwater) to rivers or seas during periods of heavy or prolonged rainfall to prevent storm sewage backing up into homes and streets. If they operated within those circumstances and were compliant with their permit, they were not reported and recorded as pollution incidents. Furthermore, water companies were monitored for their compliance with their permits to discharge treated water from sewage treatment works and water treatment works.
In 2021, which we understood was the most recent year for which data was available, Anglian Water had an overall Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) rating of two stars (out of a possible four), which meant that the ‘company requires improvement’. The EPA report stated that they performed below target (amber status) for the number of sewerage pollution incidents and for their compliance with their discharge permit. Their performance was significantly below target (red status) for the number of serious pollution incidents. Furthermore, Anglian Water had had enforcement action against them on multiple occasions in recent years for Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR) offences.
We accepted that Anglian Water were carrying out a number of activities that could have a positive impact on the environment. However, because they also carried out activities that caused harm to the environment, which contradicted the overall impression of the ad, we considered that was material information which should have been made clear in the ads. We concluded that the ads omitted material information and were therefore misleading.
Ad (a) breached BCAP Code rules 3.1, 3.2 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Substantiation), 9.2 (Environmental claims) and ad (b) breach CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 11.1 (Environmental claims).
The ads must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Anglian Water Services Ltd to ensure that when making environmental claims they were adequately qualified and did not omit material information about the negative impact they had on the environment.