Energy firm rapped over carbon offset claims

Scottish & Southern Energy Group has become the first energy company to be hauled over the coals by the Advertising Standards Authority for failing to be able to back up claims that its green tariff offset its customers' carbon emissions.

With growing consumer awareness of environmental issues, more and more companies are keen to seem green but this case highlights the discrepancy between in-house, unregulated carbon offset schemes and those run under the auspices of the Clean Development Mechanism which legally count towards Kyoto targets.

The specifics of the complaint were that the company distributed a leaflet under the headline ‘A good use of your energy’ which read ‘when you join power2 we supply cleaner, greener hydro-electricity to the National Grid, cutting CO2 emissions. And we plant trees to balance out the CO2 that your gas heating and household waste produces’.

While the complainant had no concern about the easily-demonstrable claim to provide power from hydro plants, they argued that Scottish & Southern lacked the evidence to prove the tree planting offset sufficient carbon to counter emissions.

Investigating the case, the ASA found that SSE had entered a three-year agreement with the World Land Trust which would plant and manage 150,000 trees per year and that the trust had already planted trees in Ecuador and Brazil that were native to those countries.

But while SSE was able to furnish the agency with figures showing the average CO2 emissions from waste and gas heating, it was unable to provide concrete evidence to show that the number of trees planted would meet or exceed this level.

The ASA ruled that the advert breached guidelines on truthfulness and substantiation and told SSE not to use it again and not to make the claim in the future unless it was amended.

Sam Bond

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