The chemical in question, HFC-134a, has been developed by several CFC producers as an "ozone-friendly" replacement in applications ranging from refrigerants for supermarket cabinets and domestic refrigerators to automobile and other air-conditioning units. ICI is one of the world's largest producers of HFC-134a under the brand name Klea.
ICI has been keen to divert attention from Greenpeace's campaign. Though not an ozone depleter, the chemical is thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Greenpeace is urging refrigerator producers and major users to switch instead to older coolants such as propane/ butane mixtures or ammonia. Earlier this year, three German firms announced plans to produce refrigerators with propane/ butane as the coolant (ENDS Report 218, p 23 ). And another German company, the retailer Edeka, is installing an ammonia-based refrigeration system in a new store (see pp 9-10 ).
ICI placed its advertisement in "The House", a weekly Commons magazine read widely by MPs and their researchers, just before Ministers were due to take part in international negotiations on the ozone layer in Copenhagen last November. The advertisement paints the development of Klea 134a as an unqualified British success story. It also seeks to refute Greenpeace's campaign with counter-claims concerning the "real" impact of the gas on global warming. It is these which are the subject of the ASA's ruling.
The ASA upheld Greenpeace's complaint that the claim could only be justified for domestic refrigerators, but ICI's advertisement did not specify that it was referring just to these. It also employed the global warming effect figure calculated for HFC-134a over a 500-year timescale, which is much lower than in the short term.
Commercial-scale refrigerators would be likely to use far greater amounts of HFC-134a, and their contribution to global warming via leaks and emissions during maintenance is much higher - especially if a mediumrather than long-term global warming effect figure is employed.
ICI has refused to roll over and accept the ASA's verdict. It has now circulated a modified version of the advertisement with the offending phrases deleted and qualifications such as "domestic" inserted in the appropriate place, claiming that the changes are "trivial".
More seriously, the company has written to MPs saying that the ASA based its judgements on flawed scientific advice from a consultancy.
It is understood that the ASA was indeed provided with outdated and flawed information. However, a spokeswoman told ENDS that the defects in the consultancy's report had been recognised, and that it was made clear to ICI that the ASA would not be using it in its deliberations. Moreover, the ASA then took advice from the Meteorological Office before arriving at its adjudication.
Greenpeace, meanwhile, remains unhappy about the ASA's verdict. It feels that ICI should have been compelled to state the timescale on which it bases any future claims about the global warming effect of HFC-134a. And it is annoyed that ICI is seeking to disparage the ASA's adjudication on the false basis of the faulty consultant's report.
The group has some reason to feel aggrieved, given that in June 1990 it complained about ICI advertisements making similar claims for Klea 134a. In that case the ASA failed to respond at all. But in September 1990 its Director-General Matti Alderson wrote to Greenpeace expressing "dismay" that the office had not taken action on "what appeared to be a well-founded and valid objection."
However, the ASA felt it was too late to take action three months after the advertisement had appeared, but said it had requested ICI "to seek advice from this office before placing similar advertisements in the future." The request plainly failed to have the desired effect.