UK watchdog on the prowl for greenwashing companies

Here at Polestar, we have written some interesting blog posts on food trends. I have written one on the edible insect market, while Oli researched the West’s relationship with meat, and Joe covered the horsemeat scandal. Safe to say, we all have an interest in food topics. 

It’s fairly common knowledge now that, to help with climate change, eating less meat could possibly help. But the food trends are all good and dandy – as long as they are sustainable. In Oli’s article, he covered that people in the UK are eating less and less meat. Consumption has fallen 17%. This obviously raises some eyebrows in the vegan markets. While the vegan industry sounds very tree-hugger… Is it actually sustainable? I found an interesting article that covers sustainability in all kids of diets, with the conclusion showing that a vegan diet may not necessarily be the most environmentally friendly.

According to a Guardian article, this brings up a recent inquiry into Oatly, who had its ads banned by a UK watchdog over ‘misleading’ green claims. Oatly is big in the alternative food market and has attracted investment from Blackstone, Oprah Winfrey and Jay-Z last year ahead of floating on the US stock market in May. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched an investigation into the campaign after receiving 109 complaints from members of the public and the campaign group A Greener World.

In one national newspaper ad, Oatly claimed “climate experts say cutting dairy and meat products from our diets is the single biggest lifestyle change we can make to reduce our environmental impact”. In paid-for ads on Twitter and Facebook, Oatly claimed the “dairy and meat industries emit more CO2 than all the world’s planes, trains, cars, boats etc, combined”. In addition, two TV ads, which featured children questioning their dads’ decision to drink cow’s milk, claimed that Oatly “generates 73% less CO2 than milk, calculated from grower to grocer”.

“We concluded that because the evidence was not sufficient to support the claim as consumers would understand it, the ads were misleading,” said the ASA. The ASA said consumers would understand the claim to be a “definitive, objective claim that was based on scientific consensus,” when instead it was the opinion of one climate expert. 

According to the Guardian Article, when the ASA investigated the claim it found Oatley had “overstated” the emissions of the meat and dairy industry because the company did not take into account emissions covering the full life cycle of transport, only emissions when a vehicle is driven. In addition, The ASA said it expected to see the blanket claim based on evidence comparing all Oatly products and types of cow’s milk. However, it was based on a single product.

Oatly owned the mistake. The company had no plans to repeat the claim and removed posts making similar claims from its own social media channels. Oatly spokesman, Tim Knight, said: “It’s clear that we could have been more specific in the way we described some of the scientific data.

“We’re a science-based company and take pride in being precise, but we could have been clearer. We talk about these things a lot, because we want to make it easy for people to make an informed switch from dairy to oat drink.”

This is the latest in a stream of big companies bring called out by the ASA after a pledge the watchdog made last September to crackdown on unsubstantiated or misleading green claims being made by firms. Last week, the watchdog banned ads run by Lipton, which is owned by drinks giant Pepsi, over misleading claims that all parts of its bottles are made from 100% recycled plastic.

The millennial and Gen Z generation are more environmentally aware of their carbon footprint – even when it comes to food. With a big push in many markets towards ESG policies, it’s important that companies do not mislead facts and statistics about their products to take advantage of consumer preferences, and so investors can accurately have information needed to value companies.

The alternative market is definitely worth keeping an eye on, especially as more and more consumers become aware of how important their diets impact the environment. Through our previous deals within agriculture and research done within this area, Polestar would love to help expand your business in this growing field

The UK advertising watchdog has banned a high-profile marketing campaign by Swedish alt-milk brand Oatly after ruling its green claims were misleading.

By Anusheh Khan on 31/01/2022