A website for JC Atkinson & Son, www.coffinselector.co.uk, for coffins, seen in April 2021, included a series of options for consumers to choose, after which it would recommend types of coffins based on their choices. Text stated, “Select three characteristics that best describe the person you are choosing for”. One of the choices below the text was “Eco concerned with protecting and preserving the natural environment”. After selecting “Eco” and other options, the website displayed a selection of coffins for consumers, including the “Reflections catalogue” which stated, “The eco-friendly Reflections range is for those wanting a truly personalised tribute”.
IssueLifeArt Coffins Ltd challenged whether the claims that wooden or MDF coffins were “eco-friendly” or could protect and preserve the natural environment were misleading and could be substantiated.
JC Atkinson & Son said that they would remove the claims that their coffins were “eco-friendly.” However, they considered that the claims could be substantiated.
They said they had commissioned a life cycle analysis of coffins which demonstrated that the type of coffins that they sold, made from chipboard and MDF, would result in lower carbon and other emissions when cremated compared to cardboard or paperboard coffins. They provided a copy of the life cycle analysis, which included an assessment of the manufacturing process of coffin types, and their environmental impact when buried or cremated. They also provided a life cycle analysis of other aspects of the funeral process including burial, cremation, hearse, body storage and travel.
The CAP Code required that the basis of environmental claims must be clear, and that unqualified claims could mislead if they omitted significant information. It also required that absolute claims were supported by a high level of substantiation.
The CAP Code further required that marketers base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication stated otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. If a general claim could not be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product might be justifiable.
The ASA considered consumers would understand the unqualified claim “eco-friendly”, in the context of a website that allowed consumers to select a coffin for someone “concerned with protecting and preserving the natural environment”, to mean that the coffins listed under the “eco” section of the website would have either no impact or an overall beneficial impact on the environment over their full life cycle, including burial or cremation. The website, including the coffin listings, did not contain any other information to clarify the basis or limits of the claim.
The life cycle analysis provided by the advertiser assessed the cremation impact and particulate emissions of a range of coffins when burned. It also assessed the total impact of the manufacture and distribution of different types of coffin. The life cycle analysis did contain information about which types of coffin might have a lower impact than others. However, it did not conclude that any kind of burial or cremation would have a neutral or positive environmental benefit.
Because the evidence that had been provided to us did not substantiate explicit or implied claims that the wooden and MDF coffins had no negative impact on the environment over their full life cycle, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code 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. 11.3 11.3 Absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation. Comparative claims such as "greener" or "friendlier" can be justified, for example, if the advertised product provides a total environmental benefit over that of the marketer's previous product or competitor products and the basis of the comparison is clear. 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).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told JC Atkinson & Son not to state or imply that their products had a net neutral or positive environmental benefit unless they held substantiation that demonstrated that across their whole life cycle. We also told them to ensure that the basis for all environmental claims were made clear to consumers.