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Contextualise those environmental claims

14 June 2023
Recently there have been three high profile rulings against energy companies. 

These rulings show that the ASA's 2022 ruling against a large banking and financial services organisation, when it ruled against two of the ads in the bank's "Climate change doesn't do borders" campaign for not including information about its contribution to carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions wasn't an outlier but the shape of things to come, (ASA ruling, 19 October 2022). Therefore care is needed in making these claims and until the UK has clear legal definitions and rules for how these claims can be made, green claims still remain high risk and every claim made, particularly in high risk sectors, will be scrutinised. 

Two of the rulings feature complaints from a focus group that has complained about green claims before and two feature challenges from the ASA. Usually the ASA will stick to the issues raised by the complainant(s) so the fact ASA challenges appear to be becoming a feature in environmental claims investigations is another indicator of just how seriously the body is taking this issue.

The key takeaway from these rulings is that companies in sectors which are looking at how they can reduce their environmental impact, must ensure that their forward looking plans cannot be confused with their current activities and information about the wider activities of the company will need to be provided to ensure the impact of new approaches is not exaggerated. 


The ASA itself challenged a Petronas ad for exaggerating the total environmental benefit of the advertiser's products and services. The ASA considered consumers would understand the claim, “… so we started connecting the dots, to become a progressive energy and solutions partner, enriching lives for a sustainable future. To reduce emissions, grow renewable energy … impact and promote a circular economy, as well as achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050” to mean that Petronas was already an energy company that was contributing to a sustainable future by taking those actions, as well as having a plan in place that would result in it achieving these goals and net zero by 2050. It concluded that the ad omitted material information about the advertiser's current activities, (Petroliam Nasional Berhad 7 June 2023). 


Repsol advertising which included the claim "we are developing biofuels and synthetic fuels to achieve net zero emissions" was found to be misleading because it highlighted biofuel and synthetic fuel initiatives which were not yet in operation, whilst failing to contextualise them from current production based on oil and gas. Additionally, it didn't include the 2050 timeframe for achieving "net zero emissions" which the ASA considered to be material information to the claim, (Repsol SA 7 June 2023).

An oil industry company

Although the ASA accepted that consumers would understand the oil industry company is involved in oil and gas investment and extraction, it considered that because the ads gave the overall impression that a significant proportion of the business comprised lower-carbon energy products, further information about the proportion of their overall business model that comprised lower-carbon energy products was material information that should have been included.

The oil industry company's claims relating to the number of houses using renewable energy from them were found to be compliant because the claim was clearly qualified with information explaining the intermediacy of the National Grid, (An oil industry company, 7 June 2023).

Please contact our authors Katharine Mason or Dominic Watkins if you have any queries regarding any of the above.

Further Reading