ASA acts on misleading green claims for cars

This month it was Peugeot Talbot's turn among the car manufacturers to have its knuckles rapped by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for a claim that diesel cars "do their bit to help save the planet". The continuing excesses of "green" car and fuel advertisements has prompted the ASA to hold a special seminar on motoring advertisements. Meanwhile, an absolute "green" claim by Braun has escaped censure.

Vehicle manufacturers have consistently been among the worst offenders of the ASA's guidelines on environmental claims. Only last month, it condemned Vauxhall and Saab - the latter for asserting that its cars can clean city air (ENDS Report 224, p 30 ).

Peugeot Talbot Motors was the latest to be put under the ASA's microscope. Friends of the Earth (FoE) objected to a press advertisement which stated that "diesel cars traditionally save fuel, save cash and do their bit to help save the planet." FoE complained that it was misleading to suggest that diesel cars constitute a benefit to the environment.

In its defence, Peugeot Talbot argued that the claim was based on the premise that diesel cars cause less harm to the environment than catalyst-equipped petrol cars. But the ASA considered that "environmental preferability" depends to a large extent upon subjective interpretation of the relative harm caused by the pollutants emitted by diesel and petrol cars. In upholding FoE's complaint, it asked Peugeot Talbot to avoid any implication that diesel is "beneficial" as opposed to "less harmful" to the environment. It also requested that future claims should be fully qualified to indicate the specific pollutants compared.

Esso has also been reprimanded for a claim that diesel fuel is "environmentally friendly". The ASA's ruling again stresses that a product should be described as "less harmful" rather than "friendly" in environmental claims.

The number of complaints about car advertisements has prompted the ASA to hold a seminar in December on the do's and dont's of motoring advertisements. The event is intended to clarify how the ASA's rules should be interpreted and how a code on car advertisements, which is currently being reviewed, can be improved.

Some absolute environmental claims, however, are meeting with the ASA's approval. One advertisement which recently attracted a complaint promoted a Braun shaver under the headline "now the perfect Father's Day gift won't cost the Earth." It continued: "so it won't hurt your pocket. And with a new type of battery, Braun shavers won't hurt the environment either."

The ASA rejected the complaint, despite the fact that all batteries have an impact on the environment even if they do not contain the heavy metals traditionally found in rechargeable batteries. It accepted that the basis of the claims was made clear and they were not unreasonable or likely to mislead.

Rulings were given by the ASA in October on another two environmental claims. A Holt Lloyd press advertisement claimed that the Redex Exhaust Emissions Reducer "reduces harmful carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions significantly." Upholding a complaint, the ASA said that there was no evidence that the product would have such an effect in a car with a catalytic convertor, nor would it have an effect over and above that produced by the detergent additives found in 40% of modern fuels.

But a complaint against a Lever Brothers advertisement for washing powder sold in "eco-bags" was rejected. The company said that the refill bags are "kinder to the environment" because they use less than 15% of the materials that go into a box of the same size. The complainant argued that because the eco-bag has a plastic lining the package would not biodegrade in landfills and therefore questioned whether it was kinder to the environment. But the ASA deemed that because most domestic waste is disposed of in sealed landfills the most important criterion is the amount rather than the material nature of the packaging.

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