UK watchdog bans Oatly ads for ‘deceptive’ environmental claims

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a series of advertisements by Swedish oat milk brand Oatly for making “deceptive” environmental claims. The ads, which appeared in newspapers and on billboards across the UK, claimed that Oatly’s production process generated 80% less greenhouse gas emissions than cow’s milk.

The ASA received complaints from two individuals who challenged the accuracy of the claims. The watchdog ruled that the ads were misleading because they did not make clear that the comparison was based on the average greenhouse gas emissions of dairy farming in the UK, rather than global emissions. The ASA also found that the ads did not provide enough evidence to support the claim that Oatly’s production process was significantly more environmentally friendly than that of cow’s milk.

Oatly defended its claims, arguing that they were based on a life cycle assessment of its production process that had been independently verified. The company also pointed out that the ads included a disclaimer stating that the comparison was based on UK data.

However, the ASA concluded that the disclaimer was not sufficient to prevent the ads from being misleading. The watchdog said that consumers were likely to interpret the claims as applying to global emissions, rather than just those in the UK.

The ruling is a blow to Oatly, which has built its brand around its environmental credentials. The company has been praised for its commitment to sustainability, including its use of renewable energy and its efforts to reduce water usage in its production process. Oatly has also been a vocal advocate for plant-based diets as a way to combat climate change.

The ban on the ads is a reminder that companies must be careful when making environmental claims in their advertising. The ASA has been cracking down on greenwashing, the practice of making exaggerated or false claims about a product’s environmental benefits. In recent years, the watchdog has banned ads by companies including Volkswagen, Shell, and Nestle for making misleading environmental claims.

Consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of the products they buy, and companies are under pressure to demonstrate their sustainability credentials. However, as the Oatly case shows, they must be able to back up their claims with robust evidence. Greenwashing not only risks misleading consumers, but it also undermines the efforts of genuinely sustainable companies to make a positive impact on the environment.