Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ban SITA Cornwall burner booklet

There was a recent embarrassment for SITA UK after an Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) investigation into Sita’s waste incinerator advertising leaflet ruled that:

the leaflet must not appear again in its current form.

On the 8th of July the ASA adjudicated that a booklet distributed by the waste company SITA should be withdrawn on five counts.

Fifteen Separate issues were raised against the booklet and each in turn was investigated by the ASA. SITA challenged issues raised against the booklet, as well as attempting to argue that the material was not a form of advertising.

The ASA considered that the leaflet was advertising material and was therefore subject to the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code.

After carefully analysing all of the issues raised, the ASA called for the leaflet to be withdrawn due to five issues, including:

  • misleading photomontages
  • unverifiable job creation claims
  • understated lorry numbers
  • the claim “The Health Protection Agency says that modern incinerators are safe” could not be substantiated
  • unbelievable sustainability claims

These issues were considered by the ASA to be ‘untruthful’ on SITA’s part or ‘unsubstantiated’ by SITA.

Most significant of all was the ASA’s ruling against SITA’s claims that “modern incinerators are safe”. The ASA rulled that these claims could not be supported by evidence and as such were in breach of CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).

From the ASA judgement:

1. the photomontages of the CERC within the leaflet gave a misleading impression of how the finished development would look against the surrounding landscape;
Upheld

The ASA noted the photomontages were intended to illustrate the architectural appearance of the building and, while they had been cropped and enlarged or reduced to suit the leaflet, they remained in proportion with their landscape setting and had not been distorted. We noted the comments from the planning consultants confirming that.

We noted text beneath two of the photomontages stated “(photomontage) view from Treviscoe” and “(photomontage) view from the Church of St. Denys, St. Dennis”. We understood that, in the latter image, the positioning of the CERC was incorrect. We considered that readers were likely to infer that, not only did the photomontages depict how the CERC would look architecturally, but also how it would appear within its surrounding environment. While we understood that the photomontages had not been distorted and remained in proportion with their landscape setting, we concluded that the leaflet could mislead by showing the CERC in an incorrect position.

On this point, the leaflet breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).

9. the claim “We estimate that around 250 jobs will be created during the peak construction phase, and a further 48 full-time jobs, once the centre opens” was misleading, because he believed SITA could not verify that that number of jobs would be created;
Upheld

We noted the chart showing the number of people who were expected to be employed over the 31-month life of the construction project. We noted the peak construction phase was in month 20 and the chart showed almost 250 people were expected to be employed in that month. We noted for 18 months of the project, fewer than 100 people were expected to be employed.

We considered however that readers were likely to infer that the peak construction phase would last for more than one month. Therefore, while we noted SITA had made clear that the number of jobs that would be created during the construction phase were estimates, we considered that the claim “around 250 jobs will be created during the peak construction phase” could mislead by exaggeration because that number of jobs was estimated for only one month. We considered that the claim should have been qualified to make that clear.

In relation to the claim that 48 full-time jobs would be created, we noted SITA had based the claim on their experience of operating similar plants, which we considered was a reasonable basis for estimate. We noted the organisational chart submitted which confirmed that 48 were to be created and concluded that the leaflet was not misleading in this respect.

On this point, the leaflet breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).

10. the claim “approximately 90 lorries (including some service deliveries) will visit the site every week day between 7am-6pm” was misleading, because he believed that the number of lorries visiting the site would be greater;
Upheld

We noted the leaflet was produced prior to the completion of the EIA but that independent consultants had carried out a Transport Assessment Summary in January 2008. We noted it included a table titled “Predicted Daily Trip Generation” and showed the trip type, the number of arrivals and departures of that type and the total. We noted HGV Waste (Import) arrivals and departures totalled 62 and HGV Waste (Export) arrivals and departures totalled 20. Five service deliveries were predicted per day. We were therefore satisfied that, at the time the leaflet was published, the claim “Approximately 90 lorries (including some service deliveries) will visit the site…” had been substantiated.

We nevertheless noted the revised figure suggested that 113 vehicles would visit the site each week, almost a third more than initially estimated. We noted the leaflet made clear that the figures were approximate but, as the EIA had not been completed when the leaflet was published, we considered that SITA should also have made clear that the figure was subject to change.

On this point, the leaflet breached CAP Code clause 7.1 (Truthfulness) but did not breach 3.1 (Substantiation).

13. the claim “The Health Protection Agency says that modern incinerators are safe” could not be substantiated; and
Upheld

We noted the claim appeared in a section of the leaflet headed “health impact assessment”. We considered that readers were therefore likely to infer from the claim “The Health Protection Agency says that modern incinerators are safe” that the HPA had studied the effects of emissions from incinerators on the health of people living nearby and concluded that they posed no threat to health.

We noted the HPA statement said “The Agency has considered studies examining adverse health effects around incinerators and is not aware of any consistent or convincing evidence of adverse health outcomes. However, it is accepted that the lack of evidence of adverse effects might be due to the limitations regarding the available data.” We noted the findings of the HIA reported that the HPA said incinerators were safe, however, we had not seen evidence that the HPA had made that claim. While we noted the HPA concluded that emissions from modern incinerators had little effect, we concluded that the claim “modern incinerators are safe” was too absolute, had not been substantiated and could mislead.

On this point, the leaflet breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).

15. The ASA challenged whether the description of the project as “sustainable” in the claim “a sustainable solution for the management of Cornwall’s waste” was misleading.
Upheld

We noted the sustainability statement by the environmental consultants concluded that the CERC performed well in terms of four key elements of sustainability – the natural and cultural environment, climate change, energy and natural resources, economy and community.

We recognised that the term ‘sustainable’ was used and understood in a variety of different ways and we noted SITA’s comment that the leaflet addressed not only recycling and energy recovery, but also other elements of sustainability such as traffic and transport and community and social effects. We considered, however that, in the context of a leaflet that talked primarily about recycling and energy recovery, consumers were likely to understand that the use of the term ‘sustainable’ in the claim “a sustainable solution for the management of Cornwall’s waste” was defined primarily in environmental terms.

We understood the best practice guidance on environmental claims in Defra’s “Green Claims Code” stated that green claims should not “be vague or ambiguous … Claims should always avoid the vague use of terms such as ‘sustainable’ …”. We understood that new guidance on the use of the terms sustainable and sustainability was under consideration by Defra but considered the “Green Claims Codes” remained the best guidance for advertisers. Whilst we acknowledged that the production of energy from waste could provide substantial environmental benefits we nonetheless considered that, in the light of Defras current recommendations, SITA had not clearly explained the basis of the claim, and it was therefore likely to be meaningless to consumers and could mislead.

On this point, the leaflet breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 49.1 (Environmental claims).

Action
The leaflet must not appear again in its current form.

2 Responses to “Burner booklet banned”

  1. This is embarrasing for SITA and the whole industry. Caught red handed by ASA!

    It illustrates, under ASA scutiny, how far, and to what lengths SITA has been “bending” reports, wording, words like sustainable, safe, “airbrushing” pictures in its propaganda to massage public perceptions of its grubby incinerator technology.

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