Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which one was Not upeld and one was Upheld.
A website for Celtic Sustainables paint, www.celticsustainables.co.uk, seen on 29 June 2018, featured text which stated "Natural Paint & Decorating". Further text stated "SUPPLIERS OF ECO PAINT, NATURAL & ECO-FRIENDLY DECORATING, SUSTAINABLE BUILDING AND ENERGY SAVING PRODUCTS".
Technical Specialities Ltd t/a Lakeland Paints challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:
1. “ECO PAINT” and “ECO-FRIENDLY”; and
2. “NATURAL ... DECORATING”.
1. Celtic Sustainables Ltd gave an example of one of their suppliers of paint that had been given the EU Ecolabel and also referred to the international certification body Cradle to Cradle, which assessed products against material health, material reutilisation, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness. The certifications were given levels of achievement in each category ranging from basic to platinum, and they provided an example of one of their suppliers’ products, which had been awarded a gold standard in each category aside water stewardship, under which it had been awarded platinum.
Celtic Sustainables provided a letter from one of their suppliers, which said that they have used water based paints since 2010, having switched from a solvent based formula. They said that this provided numerous environmental benefits.
2. Celtic Sustainables said there had been discussion within the industry about what could be defined as "natural". They said they believed natural decorating products to be composed of natural materials that had been subject to minimal manufacturing processing to achieve a functional product, or else are clearly and self-evidently made from a natural sourced material such as a plant. They said its function in the claim was to express that a wide selection of products that they sold were natural and not just painting products.
Celtic Sustainables provided a link to a datasheet on their website for one of their “natural” paints. It stated that the product was composed of mineral fillers, water, Replebin (a biogenic oil), titanium dioxide, cellulose, surfactants made of rapeseed, caster oil, ammonia and thaizoles. They said they also offered lime paints (based on calcium hydroxide), natural earth pigments (some of which were minerals mined and ground to a powder) and natural building products (such as fibre insulation products from sheep’s wool and hemp wood fibre).
1. Not upheld
The CAP Code stated that the basis of environmental claims had to be clear and that marketers had to base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication stated otherwise, and had to make clear the limits of the life cycle.
The ASA noted that paint and decorating products were typically made with materials that were known to have a harmful effect on the environment, such as solvents and plastics. In that context, we considered that consumers would understand the claims “ECO PAINT” and “ECO-FRIENDLY” to mean that Celtic Sustainables sold products which contained little or no harmful substances and their effect on the environment was therefore reduced.
The information provided by Celtic Sustainables showed that they sold seven types of paint that had been given the EU Ecolabel, available in different sizes. The EU Ecolabel was a voluntary scheme under which producers, importers and retailers could apply for the label for their products. The label was backed by all EU Member States and the European Commission and was the UK’s official environment label. It identified that a product or service had a reduced impact on the environment throughout its life cycle. We understood that to qualify for the EU Ecolabel, products had to comply with a robust set of criteria from the extraction of raw materials, through to production, use and ultimately to the recycling bin. That meant that the product’s environmental impact was lessened compared to similar products on the market.
We noted that those products that had been given the EU Ecolabel had been produced with little to no harmful substances. Those products, which included paints and varnishes, were free from oils and acrylics and contained either minimal VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), which were emitted substances that were known to lessen air quality and consequently increase air pollution, or were VOC free. We considered it had been demonstrated that those products which had been given the EU Ecolabel contained little or no harmful substances and therefore had a reduced impact on the environment.
In addition, we recognised that the five categories under which the suppliers were evaluated as part of the Cradle to Cradle scheme demonstrated that there had been consideration for the environment as part of that assessment. Under the category of material health for example, the intention was to understand the chemical ingredients of every material in a product and optimise towards safer materials. The intention of the water stewardship category was to manage clean water as a precious resource and an essential human right, and under social fairness the scheme aimed to design operations to honour all people and natural systems affected by the use, disposal or reuse of a product.
In order for a company to achieve a gold standard, it had to meet an emissions standard, the intent of which was to ensure that VOCs were not being emitted from products used indoors or products that impacted the concentration of VOCs in the indoor environment. The schemes principles were to produce and use renewable energy and eliminate the concept of waste. We also noted that the product was described on Celtic Sustainables’ website as having “very low VOCs”. We considered, consequently, that it had also been demonstrated that those products contained little harmful substances and that their effect on the environment throughout their life cycle had been reduced.
The letter provided by the supplier, which stated that their water based formula meant consumers were able to clean out brushes and rollers easily, drastically cutting the amount of harmful solvents making it into waterways and making it easier to salvage and recycle, stated that their paints were categorised as either ‘low VOC’ or ‘minimal VOC’ by the EU Paint Directive 2004/42/EC. It also stated that they had never tested their products on animals and many of their paints had been independently tested and approved to meet British and European Standards, ensuring safe levels of a variety of heavy metals and toxic substances.
While we considered the letter from the supplier was a broad demonstration of the environmental credentials of their products, it had not been demonstrated that the full life cycle of those products had been taken into account. For example, we had been given no information on the extraction of the raw materials used to create the products and how that extraction had a reduced effect on the environment. Additionally, and while we noted the use of a water based formula may have reduced the amount of harmful solvents from entering waterways, we could not be sure whether any other negative effects were caused to the environment upon disposal of the products. No further information had been given in relation to disposal, nor had it been demonstrated that the products had been tested against any particular disposal or recycling standards.
Notwithstanding that, we considered Celtic Sustainables had demonstrated that a number of the paint products they sold contained little or no harmful substances, that they had a reduced impact on the environment throughout their life cycle and therefore concluded that the claims “ECO-PAINT” and “ECO-FRIENDLY” were not misleading.
On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation), 11.1 11.1 The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information. and 11.4 11.4 Marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. If a general claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product might be justifiable. Marketers must ensure claims that are based on only part of the advertised product's life cycle do not mislead consumers about the product's total environmental impact. (Environmental claims), but did not find it in breach.
The claim “NATURAL …DECORATING” was very broad and we considered consumers would understand it to mean that Celtic Sustainables sold a number of products to which the description “natural” could be applied, including some paints.
We considered the products which Celtic Sustainables defined as natural. Hemp shiv, the core of a hemp plant that was used for wall and floor construction, was dried and chopped to various sizes and sold in different weights. Wooden laths from oak or pine timber, used to finish walls and ceilings, were dried and split by hand and sold in bundles. We considered those products were sold in a form that consumers would typically identify as “natural” items.
In the context of an ad for paint, we considered consumers were likely to interpret "natural" in any one of several different ways, to mean that specific components, or the product in general, were healthy, non-toxic, natural in origin, benign when disposed of or had undergone less processing. We considered some interpretations could conflict with each other – for example, something that was natural in origin might be toxic. With interpretations, and consumers' expectations, likely to vary so widely, we considered that a claim that a paint was "natural" needed to be accompanied by an immediate explanation of what was meant by the claim or what it referred to. Without that information, the claim was likely to mislead.
Therefore, because the meaning was not made sufficiently clear in the ad itself, we concluded that the claim “NATURAL … DECORATING” was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
The web page must not continue to appear in its current form. We told Celtic Sustainables Ltd to ensure their future advertising did not make claims that their paint products were “natural” unless they made it sufficiently clear what was meant by the claim.