ASA calls on Anglian Water to pull ‘misleading’ ad on sustainability initiatives

The UK’s advertising watchdog has called on Anglian Water to remove an advert showcasing its environmental credentials, claiming that it was “misleading” audiences by failing to account for the negative impacts caused by water companies.

ASA calls on Anglian Water to pull ‘misleading’ ad on sustainability initiatives

Pictured: Anglian's  Grafham Water site

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has advised Anglian Water to pull an ad that circulated between September and October 2022.

The ad in question featured a girl who explained how the company was investing to create wetlands and improve wildlife and also highlighted a zero-emission van used by the company.

However, campaigners argued that the ad ignored the negative impacts that water companies have on the environment.

Last year it was revealed that UK water companies had discharged sewage more than 9,200 times over a 12-month period, and were accused of discharging sewage when there has been no rain more than 160 times – something they are not legally allowed to do.

Environment Agency data for 2021 states that untreated sewage was discharged into coastal bathing waters across England for a total of 160,000 hours, in 25,000 separate discharge incidents.

In total, nine complaints were issued over the ad on the grounds that they were misleading. The ASA has sided with the complaints.

“We accepted that Anglian Water was carrying out a number of activities that could have a positive impact on the environment,” the ASA said in a statement. “However, because they also carried out activities that caused harm to the environment, which contradicted the overall impression of the ad, we considered that was material information which should have been made clear in the ads.

“We concluded that the ads omitted material information and were therefore misleading.”

Anglian Water told the ASA that they “did not believe that the ads were misleading”. The ads included initiatives that showcased how the company was investing in environmental protection, the water company added.

Anglian Water also claimed it “did not actively dump sewage into rivers and seas”, but instead released “highly diluted” sewage and followed actions that were permitted by the Environmental Agency.

Anglian Water is working toward a published route map, which outlines how onsite renewables, electric vehicles (EVs), hydrogen and biogas production will deliver its ambition to reach net-zero by 2030.

Oil focus

It comes just days after the ASA banned a video advert and billboard campaign from Shell on greenwashing grounds.

First published in 2022, the campaign consists of a video advertisement and a billboard, both showing imagery of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and of wind turbines. The campaign used the tagline “the UK is ready for cleaner energy”.

Also linked to this campaign was a local variation in the south west of England, with taglines such as “Bristol is ready for cleaner energy”.

Campaign group AdFree Cities urged the ASA to ban the adverts on the grounds that they would mislead viewers into believing that Shell is a sustainable company.

The ASA previously warned corporates that consumers have little awareness of the meaning of ‘carbon-neutral’ or ‘net-zero’ when these terms are used in product or service advertisements.

Most of the people the ASA interviewed last year believed that, in making net-zero or carbon-neutral claims, businesses were not taking an offsetting-first approach – instead, they were believed to have been reducing their absolute emissions in-house.

When the ASA explained that brands could technically claim carbon neutrality by offsetting alone, a majority said they would feel misled.

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