With no engine and no exhaust, Vectrix thought they were on safe ground going the whole green hog in their “Electric Maxi Scooter” brochure. But what did the ASA think about the “zero emissions”, “zero carbon impact” and “environmentally friendly ” claims? Omar Bucchioni reports.
Who: Vectrix UK Ltd and the Advertising Standards Authority
When: May 2008
Law stated as at: 7 May 2008
The Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) has recently decided on a very interesting case concerning “Zero emissions”.
As stated at http://investors.vectrix.com/vectrix/company, Vectrix Corporation, designs, develops, assembles and sells high-performance, zero-emission, two-wheel electric vehicles. Founded in 1996, the Company is headquartered in Newport, Rhode Island, and has a modern production facility in Wroclaw, Poland, where its vehicles are assembled.
Amongst other innovative characteristics, the throttle incorporates a regenerative braking system, which recharges the scooter’s battery during braking, and provides the ability to reverse at low speed, thereby assisting manoeuvrability and parking.
Recently, it was on the news that two Maxi-Scooters have been used by “eco-friendly” traffic police on the streets of Portsmouth city centre to carry out patrols as part of the six-month trial – the first trial of its kind across the country. Apparently, they only cost 25p to charge up, have a top speed of 62mph, at a constant speed of 25 mph (40 km/h) have a range of around 68 miles and are cheap to maintain.
As published by the ASA in its adjudication reports, a brochure, for the Vectrix Electric Maxi-Scooter, stated “MAXIMUM PERFORMANCE. ZERO EMISSIONS” on the front. Text inside stated “… Vectrix uses innovative zero-emission technology to offer a clean, quiet and much needed alternative to existing petrol-powered, two-wheel vehicles … ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY Zero Emissions”.
One complainant challenged whether the claims “zero emissions” and that the maxi-scooter had a zero carbon impact when compared with petrol-powered scooters were misleading. The complainant pointed out that the maxi-scooter required electricity from the national grid to charge and would therefore have a carbon impact.
On the face of it, it seemed that Vectrix had quite a good defence as the maxi-scooter operates with zero emissions at the point of use and therefore its carbon footprint is zero. In its submission, Vectrix said the scooter had no engine and no exhaust and therefore the emissions were zero. Vectrix also said that some of their customers used solar panels and wind turbines for their electricity and therefore produced zero carbon emissions when charging the maxi-scooter.
Vectrix conceded that if the energy was produced using National Grid, then electricity required to charge the bike would lead to CO2 emissions. However, they argued that in the transport sector, CO2 emissions for vehicles were calculated at the point of use. They said there were zero emissions at the point of use with the Vectrix and that was the basis for their claim. Moreover, they argued that the Government did not apply road fund licence tax to the Vectrix because it produced no emissions in use.
The ASA decision
The ASA appreciated that the Vectrix maxi-scooter produced no carbon or other polluting emissions whilst being driven. However, in order to use the maxi-scooter, consumers are required to charge it with electricity and as the majority of consumers got their electricity from the national grid, ultimately, the charging of the maxi-scooter would therefore result in CO2 emissions.
In addition, the ASA stated that without immediate qualification to explain that “zero emissions” referred to emissions produced by the vehicle while it was being driven, the claims “emission free” and “zero emissions” in the body copy were misleading.
Furthermore, carbon emissions would normally be produced when charging the scooter, therefore the ASA concluded that the absolute claims “CARBON IMPACT 0″ and “CO2: ZERO” were likely to mislead about both the carbon impact of the vehicle on its own and its relative environmental credentials when compared with petrol scooters.
Finally with regard to the “Environmentally friendly” claim, the ASA took the view that this implied there would be no environmental damage when taking into account the full lifecycle of the product including use, manufacturing and charging. As it had already been established that this was not the case, this claim also breached the Code.
Why this matters:
The general public considers a product to be “Environmentally friendly”, when its use would not cause any environmental damage. In terms of vehicles, according to the ASA, advertisers have to take into account “the full life cycle and use of the product, including both manufacturing and charging it”. Therefore, companies should not advertise products as “zero emissions”, “zero carbon impact” or “environmentally friendly” without qualification unless marketers could provide convincing evidence that their product would cause no environmental damage when taking into account the full life cycle of the product.