Holding back the unstoppable tide of green claims

The Advertising Standards Authority is struggling to hold the line on the advertising of environmental benefits. In June, the Authority put out a series of instructions trying to impose clearer conditions on advertisers. But it continues to have to adjudicate on a series of difficult decisions. Last week saw a wind power developer taken to task for over-estimating the carbon savings from turbines. The Authority had to decide which type of power station would produce less power as a result of a new wind farm – coal or gas. It took advice from the National Grid and proceeded to tick npower off, even though the power company was following rules previously set down by the ASA itself. In at least one other country, the advertising regulator has thrown in the towel and told some advertisers simply to stop advertising green claims. Reuters reports that Norway’s Consumer Ombudsman has told car advertisers that ‘We ask that…phrases such as “environmentally friendly”, “green”, “clean”, “environmental car”, “natural” or similar descriptions not be used in marketing cars.’

We cannot be far away from this sort of rule in the UK. Green claims are almost invariably contentious and difficult to prove. We simply don’t have an accounting system that can deal yet with carbon. Advertisers are going to be forced to avoid any but the most clear-cut and well-documented savings.

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