‘Clean coal’ advert falls foul of Britain’s watchdog

Advert by private-sector coal company banned for implying coal does not produce CO2 emissions


An advert for the world’s largest private-sector coal company has been banned for misleadingly implying that “clean coal” does not produce CO2 or other emissions.

The national press advert began: “Let’s Brighten the Many Faces of Global Energy Poverty... 3.5 billion people in the world lack adequate access to energy... four million people — one every eight seconds — die each year from energy poverty... Untold millions around the world must choose between paying for food or power...”

It went on: “That’s why Peabody Energy is working to build awareness and support to end energy poverty, increase access to low-cost electricity and improve emissions using today’s advanced clean coal technologies.”

The WWF challenged the advert on three grounds, including that the term ‘clean coal’ was misleading and implied that the advertiser’s impact on the environment was “less damaging than was actually the case”.

Peabody Energy told Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that ‘clean coal’ technologies available today had significantly reduced emissions in the US amid increases in coal-based power generation.

It provided a data sheet demonstrating that in 2013 coal-based power generation had increased by 125 per cent since 1970, but that combined emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter had decreased by 90 per cent.

Peabody Energy noted that the advert stated ‘That’s why Peabody Energy is working to... improve emissions using today’s advanced clean coal technologies’ and that it was therefore clear that ‘clean coal’ would be used to improve emissions, not eliminate them.

The ASA said it understood the phrase ‘clean coal’ was the term given to a branch of research and innovation aimed at reducing the environmental impact of using coal, such as filtering out particulates and preventing or neutralising the emission of waste gases.

However, it said it also understood that this technology was not able to prevent CO2 from being emitted during the use of coal, relying instead on carbon capture and storage, and that although emissions such as sulphur dioxide were reduced, they were still produced. It said: “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’.

“Notwithstanding the fact that ‘clean coal’ had a meaning within the energy sector, we considered that without further information, and particularly when followed by another reference to ‘clean, modern energy’, consumers were likely to interpret the word ‘clean’ as an absolute claim meaning that clean coal processes did not produce CO2 or other emissions. “We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.” It ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form, adding: “We told Peabody Energy to ensure that future ads did not state or imply that their technologies were emission-free or similar unless they could demonstrate that this was the case.”

Two other complaints by the WWF, that the advert was misleading for stating that ‘energy poverty is the world’s number one human and environmental crisis’ and the implication that Peabody was working to solve energy poverty, were not upheld by the ASA.