The Consumer Ombudsman intervened in Vattenfall’s environmental marketing: promises of fossil-freedom too broad

At the request of the Consumer Ombudsman, energy company Vattenfall has committed to correcting its environmental marketing. A company cannot claim in its marketing that its operations will be fossil-free within a certain period of time unless it can prove the claim already at the time of marketing.

The Consumer Ombudsman examined Vattenfall’s TV commercial that creates an image of the company being environmentally friendly with phrases such as “fossil-free life in one generation’s time”. The commercial has been created for the profiling of Vattenfall’s image and brand and to also indirectly promote sales. Vattenfall’s operating methods are not described in more detail in the commercial, and the main message of environmental friendliness is based on impressions.

Environmental marketing is always required to be accurate, precise and clear, image advertising included. In the Consumer Ombudsman’s view, the claim “fossil-free life within one generation’s time” in the TV commercial is a factual claim that must be verifiable in a reliable manner.

The Consumer Ombudsman required that Vattenfall will not implement marketing in a way that uses generalised claims and illustration to create an image of the company’s environmental friendliness without clearly indicating the concrete elements on which the overall impression of environmental friendliness is based. The grounds must be mentioned in the commercial itself, and a reference to a website address alone is not enough to meet this requirement.

“The main message of a commercial about environmental friendliness and a better future cannot be based on conjured-up images. If a company’s goals are being marketed, it must be made clear and cannot be presented as current facts.”

Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen

Väänänen also points out that the development of the energy sector is sensitive to economic fluctuations and that business activities are often multinational, which means that the environmental impacts of the sector are subject to a wide range of changes and uncertainty. This must also be taken into account in marketing so that the overall image created for the consumer is truthful and realistic.

Environmental marketing must be clear and justified

The principles of environmental marketing are described in the European Commission’s guidelines and the Consumer Ombudsman’s guidelines on the use of environmentally oriented claims in marketing. Environmental claims must be clear, precise and understandable and not misleading. Companies must also have evidence to support their claims. The justifications for the claims must be easy to find and not, for example, several clicks away from the claim itself.