“Clean coal” not so clean, rules UK advertising regulator

WWF brought a complaint before the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority that the term “clean coal” was misleading and implied that the advertiser’s [Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company] impact on the environment was less damaging than is actually the case. In the UK Peabody has been using the claim “Peabody Energy is working to build awareness and support to end energy poverty, increase access to low-cost electricity and improve emissions using today’s advanced clean coal technologies. We call it Advanced Energy for Life. Because clean, modern energy is the solution for better, longer and healthier lives.” as part of its advertising campaign. In the UK the ASA has the power to ban advertising claims that are found to be misleading.

The ASA ruled as follows:

Notwithstanding the fact that “clean coal” had a meaning within the energy sector, we considered that without further information, and particularly when followed by another reference to “clean, modern energy”, consumers were likely to interpret the word ”clean” as an absolute claim meaning that “clean coal” processes did not produce CO2 or other emissions. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.

ASA directed that

The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Peabody Energy Inc. to ensure that future ads did not state or imply that their technologies were emission-free or similar unless they could demonstrate that this was the case.

According to media reports, Peabody has responded by adding the following footnote to the advertisement:

The U.S. Congress itself defined the term clean coal, and Japan and China recently have affirmed the use of clean coal technologies as important to their energy strategies. Clean coal and clean coal technologies describe today’s high-efficiency supercritical technology as well as the collection of technologies that reduce key power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates and mercury. These technologies are in broad use globally and are commercially available.

WWF may well go after the amended ad as well.

It is interesting that this ban on Peabody Energy’s unconditional clean coal claim comes at the same times as a report states that the Canadian Government’s $24 million Pro-Keystone pipeline advertising campaign in the US has had little impact on US public opinion about the pipeline.

A summary of the ASA decision is available at http://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2014/8/Peabody-Energy-Corporation/SHP_ADJ_266168.aspx#.U_Xun_ldVWI

The advertisement from Peabody Energy, apparently as amended following the regulator’s decision, is available at https://www.advancedenergyforlife.com/sites/default/files/Let%27s%20Brighten%20the%20Many%20Faces%20of%20Global%20Energy%20Poverty_0.pdf

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