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ASA's ruling against Quorn ad over carbon footprint claim – a reminder that all specific claims must be substantiated

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United Kingdom

The Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") has upheld complaints from thirty-two complainants who challenged whether the claims in a TV advert promoting Quorn Thai Wonder Grains that the product could help reduce their carbon footprint were misleading. This ruling shows that despite having a clear carbon footprint protocol and certification, the ASA will nevertheless uphold complaints against ads which omit key information in relation to the basis of environmental claims.

In recent years, both consumers and businesses have become increasingly conscious of their carbon footprint. With a growing number of "green" conscious consumers, it is perhaps no surprise that a number of businesses have tried to capitalise on this trend by marketing their green credentials. However, the ASA has taken a hard line against environmental claims which are not explained clearly and so could be confusing for consumers. For example, the ASA has ruled against environmental claims which purport to apply to a specific product unless marketers are able to substantiate that the product will cause no environmental damage across its entire life cycle. This has included taking action against claims such as "environmentally friendly".

The complaints against the Quorn TV ad are the latest to be upheld by the ASA in relation to an environmental claim. Although on first reading of the headline ruling, it would seem that Marlow Foods Ltd (which trades as "Quorn") had made a false green claim, in fact, Quorn's Wonder Grains product was certified by the Carbon Trust as “Cradle to Grave” for its full lifecycle. Furthermore, Clearcast (the non-governmental organisation which pre-approves most British television advertising), which had previously approved the ad, said that they were provided with information from Carbon Trust which confirmed this certification. The ad also included text which stated that Wonder Grains had been awarded the Carbon Reduction Footprint certification.

However, in its Ruling, the ASA nevertheless determined that the ad was "likely to mislead". The ASA concluded that the ad omitted material details by not clarifying what the claimed reduction of the carbon footprint was being measured against. This meant that viewers would not know on what the reduction was based. The ruling states that: "viewers would interpret the claim as a comparison against one or more other, similar, products, such that by choosing to buy a Quorn Thai Wondergrains pot over a different product, consumers could reduce their carbon footprint immediately."

The ASA further noted that, as the Wonder Grains was a new product, it wasn't possible to show a reduction in its footprint and so the certification only relates to Quorn's on-going commitment over time, which the ASA determined was not clear from the ad.

This ruling just goes to show that even where a business has taken significant environmental steps in relation to its products and has relevant policies in place, it is always necessary to ensure that each specific environmental claim can be clearly substantiated and that all material information is made clear in the ad itself. 

If you require any further information in relation to this area please don’t hesitate to contact Rachel Bowley or Sonal Patel Oliva.

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