Advertising regulator Ads Standards has ruled that it is misleading to call gas ‘cleaner and greener’ than other energy sources, in a major rebuke of gas industry’s efforts to position its commodity as environmentally friendly.
Ads Standards received a complaint regarding a billboard advertisement run by Australian Gas Networks, in which it was inferred that gas was ‘cleaner and greener’ than other sources of energy.
The billboard said that gas was “greener than anything you’re cooking tonight” and used the words “Love Cleaner Energy, Love Natural Gas”. The billboard included an image of a man holding a tray of lasagne.
Responding to the complaint, Australian Gas Networks argued that the terms used were not misleading.
“In our view, the wording of the billboard is not misleading as Natural Gas is widely considered to be a cleaner energy source than electricity from the grid which is the primary alternative energy source.”
“We do not claim that natural gas is the cleanest energy available. We also note that AGN is progressing the conversion of its natural gas network to renewable gas, with the first stage commencing in South Australia later year by blending renewable hydrogen gas into the natural gas network.”
As noted by Mumbrella, Australian Gas Networks tried to argue that gas had a smaller environmental impact compared to grid electricity, citing the Department of Environment and Energy, National Greenhouse Accounts Factors report.
However, a majority of Ads Standards’ community panel ruled that this was not the effect of the billboard, finding that the average member of the community would consider the advertisement to be a claim that gas was greener than all other energy sources, including renewables, and that this was misleading.
“The Panel considered that the overall impression an average consumer in the target market would have of the advertisement would be that natural gas is cleaner and greener than any alternate method of cooking that they could use,” the panel said.
“The Panel considered that this claim is misleading as there are other energy sources which would be considered cleaner and greener than gas.”
“The Panel considered the advertisement made an environmental claim and that this claim was misleading or deceptive based on the impression an average consumer in the target market would take from the advertisement as a whole.”
The panel concluded that there had been a breach of a section of the advertising code of Environmental Claims in Advertising or Marketing Communications, which states that advertising “… shall not be misleading or deceptive or be likely to mislead or deceive.”
Following the decision by Ads Standards, Australian Gas Networks confirmed that it will no longer use the billboard.
“[Australian Gas Networks] takes seriously its obligations under the advertising standards to ensure relevant guidelines are followed, in particular the Environmental Claims Code. Our winter advertising campaign aims to raise awareness of natural gas and the benefits it provides over grid electricity, so that consumers can make an informed choice on their energy supply,” Australian Gas Networks said.
“We accept the decision of the Panel and confirm that due to the rotation of our winter campaign ads, the billboard is no longer in use.”
Ads Standards is an industry funded advertising regulator, operating as a system of self-regulation, but its findings are generally well respected by the advertising industry.
It’s not the first time that Ads Standards has received a complaint about natural gas advertising campaigns.
In 2019, Ads Standards dismissed a complaint lodged against a Santos advertisement, that claimed that natural gas was “naturally occurring”, but noted that companies could not claim gas was an equivalent replacement to renewable energy sources.
The latest ruling follows a recent push by the Australian gas industry to engage Instagram influencers as part of their marketing efforts.
This included paid promotions, funded by gas company Jemena, where influencers made posts to the social media platform the ‘benefits’ of cooking with gas or using gas to heat their homes.
Following the RenewEconomy report, the gas promotional posts were removed from the Instagram accounts, and the #GoNaturalGas hashtag was co-opted by environmental groups running a counter-campaign warning of the negative impacts of gas.
There is a growing body of research that shows that natural gas provides little benefit, if any, compared to the use of coal as an energy source in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. The use of gas in household settings has also been found to be a contributor to respiratory issues.