A poster for TIER, an electric scooter hire company, seen on the London Underground on 14 July 2021, featured an image of a scooter with text which said “Be environmentally … friendly. Take a TIER”. Smaller text at the bottom of the ad stated “#changemobilityforgood”.
IssueThe ASA challenged whether the claim “be environmentally... friendly take a TIER” misleadingly implied that electric scooters caused no environmental damage.
TIER Operations Ltd t/a TIER said the claim “be environmentally... friendly take a TIER” was not an absolute claim but was implicitly relative. They said they were addressing people who had a selection of mainstream transport options, such as petrol cars or non-electric buses, with the conclusion being that ‘taking a TIER’ was an environmentally sound choice as a means of transport.
TIER said environmentally friendly could also be seen as a term which described the attributes of a product or service, rather than the product or service in its entirety. TIER said their electric scooter service could be described as environmentally friendly because in their operations they used electric vans and electric cargo bikes for servicing, renewable energy for charging, recycled materials in production and decommissioned scooters were recycled. TIER provided documentation that their production facilities were certified to minimise environmental risks.
TIER provided a report from the International Transport Forum (ITF) which they said examined and compared the energy and climate impact across different modes of transport and was a recognised international reference point for comparing their environmental performance. TIER said that their operational model and scooters had a vehicle lifetime of over five years and the vehicles they used for servicing were electric vans and electric scooters, which they said significantly lowered their carbon emissions. In contrast, TIER said the ITF report estimated a two-year electric scooter lifetime and use of diesel vans for servicing. The ITF report also compared the carbon dioxide emissions of hybrid and electric taxis, combustion engines and electric buses with a shared electric scooter. TIER said their own research showed that on average 17.3% of their rides replaced car journeys and that electric scooters could fare better than buses and metro in their emissions.
TIER provided a paper entitled Life Cycle Assessment on the Mobility Service E-Scooter Sharing. It produced results of the lifecycle assessment of shared electric scooters in Berlin, which included the various factors that influenced the greenhouse balance and global warming potential compared to alternative means of transport.
Tier also provided a Life Cycle Assessment Mobility study for an electric scooter model which they said was effectively the same as the model they deployed in London. The study aimed to identify the main factors of negative environmental impacts. It analysed the impact of the scooter across the entire lifecycle of the product, manufacture, transport, use phase and disposal. They said they had put in place a range of measures to minimise environmental impact and maximise the sustainability of their service.
The ad featured the claim, “Be environmentally … friendly. Take a TIER”. We considered the claim “be environmentally friendly” was an absolute claim and would be understood to mean that the TIER electric scooter caused no environmental damage over the full lifecycle of the scheme, rather than that it had lower carbon emissions than the comparator vehicles. We noted that the ad appeared in an Underground Tube station and stated “changemobilityforgood”. We acknowledged TIER’s argument that the claim was an implicitly relative claim. However, we considered that it was not presented as a clear comparison with any other modes of transport as it showed only an image of an electric scooter and did not refer to any other transport options. We also considered that the claim was not expressed in a more limited comparative way, such as ‘environmentally friendlier’, neither did it make clear if it was intended to refer to swapping to a TIER scooter from another form of transport and if so, what that was.
We considered both lifecycle assessment papers (LCA) provided by TIER, which assessed the environmental impact of the operation of shared electric scooters. We noted the study from Berlin highlighted the global warming impact associated with the use of aluminium parts in the production of the electric scooters.
We noted from the TIER Mobility LCA, 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. It also highlighted the disproportionately high share of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the use of aluminium in the production phase. Both LCA’s concluded with a number of recommendations to reduce emission impact, energy demand and improve scooter lifetimes. While we acknowledged that TIER had provided analysis of the measures they had implemented to demonstrate the environmental impact of their electric scooter, we considered that the evidence provided did not demonstrate that the TIER E-Scooter scheme caused no environmental damage over its full lifecycle.
The CAP Code also required that the basis of environmental claims must be clear. Notwithstanding that, we considered “Be environmentally … friendly. Take a TIER” would be interpreted as an absolute claim, rather than as the intended comparison. There was no information in the ad to clarify on what that comparison was intended to be based.
Because we had not seen evidence based on the lifecycle of the product to support the absolute claim “Be environmentally friendly, take a TIER” as it would be understood by consumers, we concluded the ad was misleading and breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
The standards objectives, insofar as they relate to advertising, include:
a) that persons under the age of 18 are protected;
b) that material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder is not included in television and radio services;
c) that the proper degree of responsibility is exercised with respect to the content of programmes which are religious programmes;
d) that generally accepted standards are applied to the contents of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from inclusion in such services of offensive and harmful material;
e) that the inclusion of advertising which may be misleading, harmful or offensive in television and radio services is prevented;
f) that the international obligations of the United Kingdom with respect to advertising included in television and radio services are complied with [in particular in respect of television those obligations set out in Articles 3b, 3e,10, 14, 15, 19, 20 and 22 of Directive 89/552/EEC (the Audi Visual Media Services Directive)];
g) that there is no use of techniques which exploit the possibility of conveying a message to viewers or listeners, or of otherwise influencing their minds, without their being aware, or fully aware, of what has occurred"
Section 319(2). and 3.7 3.7 Advertisements must not falsely imply that the advertiser is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession. Advertisements must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context. (Misleading advertising), 11.1 11.1 Radio Central Copy Clearance – Radio broadcasters must ensure advertisements subject to this section are centrally cleared. 11.3 11.3 Advertisements must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. For example, they must not offer specific advice on, diagnosis of or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment is conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional (see rule 11.9). That does not prevent advertising for spectacles, contact lenses or hearing aids. and 11.4 11.4 Medicinal or medical claims and indications may be made for a medicinal product that is licensed by the MHRA, the VMD or under the auspices of the EMA, or for a CE-marked medical device. A medicinal claim is a claim that a product or its constituent(s) can be used with a view to making a medical diagnosis or can treat or prevent disease, including an injury, ailment or adverse condition, whether of body or mind, in human beings.
Secondary medicinal claims made for cosmetic products as defined in the appropriate European legislation must be backed by evidence. These are limited to any preventative action of the product and may not include claims to treat disease. (Environmental claims).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told TIER Operations Ltd to ensure they made clear when claims were comparative, rather than absolute, and that they held adequate evidence to support their claims. We also told them to ensure the basis of environmental claims was clear.