Don’t say “Zero Carbon Solar”
(Nor Zero Carbon Anything-else, or the ASA will damn you!)
Solar News 14 December 2011:
Strapline 1: Gorillas holding machine guns are not all that funny.
Strapline 2: Will John Prescott’s famous “Zero Carbon Homes” aspiration also be gunned down?
Solar innovator, Barry Johnston, Managing Director of Solar Twin Ltd said today:
“It is sad and perplexing to many people that the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority, ASA, have adjudicated against us on a web complaint (on our home page). We intend to refer the adjudication to an independent review. The “problem” is our 12 year old strapline, which says “Zero Carbon Solar”.
“According to the ASA, we have made a misleading and unsubstantiated environmental claim by saying Zero Carbon Solar.
” We appreciate the vital role that the ASA plays for consumers and for industry, but we believe the ASA’s decision in this matter involving specific case is flawed. Although we dispute their decision, to show some respect, we have scrawled “ASA BANNED” over the Zero Carbon part of our website, thus making it ultra-clear that the ASA have banned it, even though we hope to be allowed to reinstate the right to say Zero Carbon Solar at some time soon.
“As you know, we operate in the construction industry, which is regulated by the the Department of Communities and Local Government’s Building Regulations. In the context of DCLG’s Building Regulations, we even told ASA that even the DCLG’s coordinating body, the Zero Carbon Hub who defined DCLG’s Zero Carbon Home, (and who defined it following a long consultation with a wide range of stakeholders) refer to both of our products as Zero Carbon.
“To be fair, surely the very greenest technologies which are actually used in Zero Carbon Homes should be allowed to say they are zero carbon (or perhaps, to say better than zero carbon) in the context of these regulations, under which they so clearly sit. But ASA discounted this evidence even though Zero Carbon Hub gives this supportive definition:
‘Zero carbon technologies… such as PV and solar thermal systems with a PV powered pump.‘
“We also provided data from a Bath University “Life Cycle Analysis” study on microgeneration which showed, of course, that while carbon is emitted during the manufacture of solar panels, just as it is for all other products, but in fact that solar is NOT zero carbon but actually FAR BETTER than zero carbon. The point is that ASA’s own written guidance REQUIRE as a default, environmental claims to have the widest possible environmental envelope, under Life Cycle Analysis. We took them at their word. But we were not banned by ASA for understatement but for failing to pander to their supposedly democratic view of the extent of public ignorance. Instead, and in fact, according to this study the manufactured carbon “embodied carbon” in a PV system broke even and actually was repaid many times during its whole life. The big question is how many times in its life are our technologies’ embodies carbon paid back by the fact that they save carbon from being emitted from a typical fossil fuel displacement scenario? Well, Bath University calculated this answer, and said:
- Solar PV systems: 6 Times Embodied Carbon Debt Repayment. (We install solar PV systems).
- PV pumped solar water heating: 20 Times Embodied Carbon Debt Repayment. (We install PV pumped solar water heating systems with Zero Coefficient of Performance.
‘The higher the Embodied Carbon Debt Repayment, the better. We also showed ASA loads of other powerful evidence in favour of the term Zero Carbon, as well, but instead ASA chose to say this:
‘The ASA noted Solar Twin’s comments that carbon was produced in the manufacture of their products and that that was offset during their operation. We also noted their comments that in the context of building regulations, zero carbon technology was restricted to operational energy use. However, we noted that within the DEFRA research paper, dated February 2011 and entitled “Consumer understanding of green terms“, only 46% of respondents stated they were very familiar or familiar with the term zero carbon. We noted that the report commented that “If unsure, participants often interpreted terms in their most literal sense (e.g. ‘zero carbon’ was often translated in the group discussions as ’emits no carbon’).” We also noted the ad was for a solar panel supplier and considered that the availability of a product which produced zero carbon during its full life cycle was likely to be a factor which would effect a consumer’s transactional decision. Therefore in the context of the ad, we considered that consumers were likely to interpret the zero carbon claim to mean that no carbon was produced in the full life cycle of the advertised products. Since we understood that carbon was produced in the manufacturing process, we concluded that the zero carbon claim had not been substantiated and that the ad was likely to mislead consumers to their detriment. The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 11.4 (Environmental claims).’
Barry Johnston continued:
‘In response to ASA’s apparent reliance on the DEFRA paper I read it carefully and asked ASA the following, because It seems that they did not read it too well. So we asked:
“On the matter of evidence, and on your recommendation to uphold, did you or someone at ASA make all adjudicators properly aware, that the apparently pivotal DEFRA paper which you refer to:
1. States that zero carbon is a newish term by saying: “Terms that have been in use for some time such as ‘recycling’, ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ were even more familiar to respondents participating in the online survey, but the opposite was true for emerging terms that are relatively new to participants, such as ‘zero carbon’
2. Was published before the Zero Carbon Hub / DCLG Zero Carbon Homes definition was finalised, so that even if the DEFA paper was up to date and conclusive (and it was neither) public understanding would have started to move on.
3. Only looked at the term zero carbon in two non-energy contexts, these being of washing machines and holidays and that the paper did not look at the term zero carbon at all in the context of energy, renewable energy or microgeneration.
4. But nevertheless stated that Carbon-related terms (several were covered) were considered meaningful by participants in the group discussions when associated with products seen to produce direct emissions through use (so presumably carbon savings too!).
5. Actually cautions against jumping to conclusions by saying “caution is needed in relation to these results due to small sample sizes in some cases, as well as the limitations relating to quota sampling”?
“We also asked ASA:
“Did you read the whole paper? It is always important to quote in context. I would also like to know how many of the adjudicators were made properly aware of each of these five important points above?
“ASA replied that their adjudicators had access to this opinion paper, whose declared weak (and irrelevant and out of date) statistics appears to have been relied upon. But access to a paper is not the same thing as actually reading it. (I have access to the whole internet: I don’t read it all.)
On the political repercussions of the ASA’s precedent-position-holding (ASA had previously banned a gas supplier from saying Zero Carbon Gas because they has marketed natural (ie carbon-containing) methane gas which was being bundled along with a package of carbon offsetting, planting trees etc), Barry Johnston commented:
“This ASA adjudication against zero Carbon Solar is a disaster for much of UK’s solar industry. It is also a disaster for the government because they may no longer be allowed to say Zero Carbon homes. But it will be cause for celebration within the exclusive and exclusionary Solar Trade Association, who have again chucked us out as members for speaking out too much on issues such as Legionella safety in solar thermal, and whose Chairman and Vice Chairman have already had, er, regulatory fun on the zero carbon issue.
“The impact of this decision will be huge. Over the last few days I have been warning Britain’s reckless bloggers and tweeters not to say “zero carbon home” and so on but most of them just press on. They seem to think the ASA are bonkers. They need to shut up of for their own good. Even you they think the ASA are like a gorilla with a machine gun, you MUST respect them, even if they might make you laugh.
“Please sober up and remember that the ASA have huge sanctions at their fingertips which even include banning commercial oxygen: access to advertising space. Another ASA sanction is that the text of everything you write must be expensively and painstakingly prior-approved. So much for spontaneity!
“Referrals and advertising is how we get business, so we had to cave in to the ASA’s censorship demands.
“Everyone who ever tries to sell anything in UK needs to know that their tweets, their facebook and all their blogs are covered by the ASA: not just their paper ads and their website.
“So watch your language, all ye Great British Zero Carbon Enthusiasts!
“If among our thousands of solar customers, one single person has actually bought a solar installation from us believing that no carbon was emitted during in its manufacture, I will eat my underpants.
“AND my long johns” He ventured, after a pause.
(Just for the record, the text of this web page has NOT been prior-approved by the ASA.)
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