ASA rules against misleading environmental claims

United Kingdom

Today the ASA published an adjudication upholding a competitor complaint against meal kit subscription business, Gousto.

The complaint

Gousto had promoted a new packaging format, the Eco Chill Box, with claims including:

  • "plastic-free”, “absolutely no plastic”, “100% plastic-free”

  • “every part of it is widely recycled …”

  • “made of recycled paper and zero plastic”

  • “100% recyclable!”

A competitor, Grocery Delivery E-Services UK Ltd, challenged whether the claims were misleading and could be substantiated.

The ruling

The ASA upheld the complaint in respect of both the plastic-free claims and the recycling claims.

On the plastic-free claims, the ASA noted that the Eco Chill Box contained a plastic ice pack. Gousto argued that the ice pack was distinct from the box. However, the ASA considered that because of the name “Eco Chill Box”, and references to the box as a means of keeping food chilled, consumers would understand the plastic-free claims as relating to the box and the ice pack together. Accordingly, the box was not plastic-free and the claims were misleading.

On the recycling claims, the ASA considered that consumers would take this to mean that every component of the box was recyclable. Because Gousto had provided no evidence that the ice packs were either widely recycled, or even recyclable at all, the ASA decided that the recycling claims were also misleading.

Points to note

Under the CAP Codes environmental claims are subject to a particularly high level of substantiation, and must be made based on the full life cycle of the product, unless the advertising states otherwise. The ASA has also indicated that environmental claims will be a key area of focus in the near future (including in an interview by Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the ASA, with CMS on 12 November – you can see a recording of the interview here).

As such, advertisers should take care not to exaggerate the environmental benefits of products. Focussing on the green credentials of one part or aspect of a product, or one stage of a product journey, while ignoring more damaging aspects, is likely to be misleading. 

It is also notable that this was a competitor complaint, meaning that Gousto would have had the opportunity to withdraw or change the claims without an adjudication. Even if advertisers opt to take a risk, and stretch the rules initially, on website advertising that can be easily withdrawn, notice of a competitor complaint should be a cue to revisit the claims and consider whether they can be amended to avoid an ASA complaint.