Vivien Pomfrey
BSc (Hons) (Open)
DipNatSci (Open)
MSc (Science) (Open)

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Complaint against British Gas leaflet

On 12th December 1998 I wrote to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to complain about a booklet which had been put through my door.  The text of my letter was as follows:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I wish to draw your attention to inaccurate claims made in a colour booklet which I have received from British Gas, which I enclose.  The booklet claims on its second inside page that LP (liquid petroleum) gas is environmentally friendly and clean, and on the sixth inside page that it is “Green and clean”.

LP gas is a fossil fuel.  When it is burned it releases almost 3 tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide per tonne of fuel. It also produces sulphur dioxide, a cause of acid rain, and oxides of nitrogen.  These include nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, which are involved in the production of tropospheric ozone (a major component of photochemical smogs which cause serious, sometimes fatal, breathing problems) and nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas.

Being a petroleum derivative, the initial extraction of the petroleum used to make LP gas involves considerable environmental damage, including the release to the atmosphere of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Yes, LP gas is “cleaner” than coal or oil, but to claim that it is clean, green or environmentally friendly is equivalent to saying that a 5' 11'' man is short because he is not as tall as one who is 6' 2'', or that a deerhound is a small dog because it is not as large as a wolfhound.  It is inaccurate, misleading, and in my opinion dishonest.  Many people will take it at face value.


The ASA upheld my complaint. The adjudication is below.


British Gas Trading Ltd

17 London Road
Staines
Middlesex
TW18 4AE

Leaflet

Complaint:
Objection to a leaflet that promoted Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and claimed "What comes straight to your door … is environmentally friendly and clean …It’s green and it’s clean." The complainant objected that LPG was a fossil fuel that produced carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen when burned and that those gases caused environmental and health problems. The complainant challenged the claims:

1. "is environmentally friendly and clean"; and

2. "It’s green and it’s clean". (Ed 9: 3.1; 7.1; 49)

Adjudication:
Complaint upheld
The advertisers said the claims compared the environmental effects of burning LPG with those of burning coal and oil. They argued that LPG produced lower levels of carbon dioxide and sulphur and nitrogen oxides than did coal or oil. The advertisers sent documents to support their claims. The Authority considered that the claims were absolute and implied that, when burned, LPG did not produce gases that caused atmospheric pollution. Because LPG burning produced gases that polluted the atmosphere, the Authority asked the advertisers to amend the leaflet to remove the impression that LPG burning did not cause pollution.

Public complaint from:

Cornwall

May 1999 - Number 96

I think that two main lessons can be learned from this successful outcome:

  1. If you see something that appears to be wrong, do not rely on others to complain.  It appears that I was the only person to complain about this booklet.  When there are several complaints, they are usually dealt with as a composite complaint, but in this case only one was referred to in the adjudication.
  2. Do not assume that one individual cannot succeed against a large corporation.  David can indeed beat Goliath!

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