The Advertising Standards Authority has banned an advert promoting “clean coal” as a solution to energy poverty
By Megan Darby
The world’s largest private-sector coal company has been banned from using an advert that implied its technology was not polluting.
Peabody Energy placed an advert in UK national media that presented “clean coal” as a solution to energy poverty around the world.
As part of its “Advanced Energy for Life” campaign, the company described energy poverty as “the world’s number one human and environmental crisis”.
It claimed it could “increase access to low-cost electricity and improve emissions using today’s advanced clean coal technologies”.
Environmental charity WWF complained the term “clean coal” was misleading and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) agreed.
However, the ASA did not uphold two other complaints against the advert, allowing both sides to claim the ruling as a victory.
The watchdog said consumers were likely to interpret the word “clean” as an absolute claim, meaning the process did not produce carbon dioxide and other pollutants. That is not the case.
They rejected Peabody’s defence that the phrase “clean coal” was taken in the industry to refer to technology that reduced emissions compared to older methods of coal power generation.
In the US, for example, Peabody noted coal-fired power generation had increased 125% since 1970 while emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates decreased by 90%.
But “clean coal” technologies are not understood to prevent carbon dioxide emissions, which cause climate change.
The ASA ruling concludes: “Although we noted that the ad stated ‘clean coal’ technologies would ‘improve emissions’, we considered that this was not sufficient to make clear the nature of this technology, particularly in the context of the word ‘clean’.”
Tony Long, director of European policy at WWF, said he was “delighted” with the outcome.
“Companies trading and selling polluting energies have a responsibility to be open and honest about their activities and products,” he said.
“The last thing they should be doing is trying to claim spurious environmental benefits from coal consumption. This merely damages the already tarnished reputation of a struggling sector.”
WWF also disputed the coal giant’s claim “energy poverty is the world’s number one human and environmental crisis” and its implication coal was the solution.
It was generally accepted the solution to energy poverty depended on renewables, not fossil fuels, WWF argued.
The ASA did not uphold those complaints. It said consumers would appreciate the assertion about energy poverty represented the advertiser’s beliefs and opinions, not an objective statement.
There is differing opinion on the solutions to energy poverty, it found. While using coal “may be contentious” and differ from WWF’s understanding of best practice, it could extend access to energy.
In a statement, Peabody “applauded” the ASA for rejecting these complaints and repeated the phrase “clean” in relation to coal.
“The company believes that access to clean, modern energy from coal is as basic as food, water or shelter, enabling a high standard of living and helping people live longer and better,” said Peabody Energy CEO Gregory Boyce.
“Every one of the UN development goals depends on energy. Yet some 3.5 billion citizens awaken each day with little or no access to energy. Many have no enduring light, no refrigerators to keep food fresh and no clean, safe way to create warmth in their homes.”
Peabody Energy was recently nominated for a communications award.