The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently shut down an anti-wind power ad run by the Trump Organization and Communities Against Turbines Scotland on the grounds that the picture and text of the ad were misleading (see the Treehugger piece here).
The ad (reproduced below) said “Welcome to Scotland” in its headline, showed a picture of several old and dilapidated wind turbines, and included the text “Alex Salmond wants to build 8,750 of these monstrosities – think about it.”
The ASA upheld three challenges to the ad brought by Scottish Renewables, a green energy trade association. First, the agency found the photograph misleading because it was not taken in Scotland but was instead a picture of a decommissioned wind farm in Hawaii.
Trump argued the picture was used to make a satirical point, but the ASA was not convinced and noted that Scottish regulations would prevent the wind turbines from deteriorating to the condition shown in the photograph. Accordingly, the ASA held that the picture gave “a misleading impression of the possible consequences of the Scottish Government’s plans to use wind turbines.”
In the second part of the ruling the ASA found the ad’s claim that the Scottish government wants to build 8,750 of “these monstrosities” to be misleading because it suggested that the wind turbines shown were the type of turbine likely to be used in Scotland. That was not the case, the agency said, because the picture was of a very old wind farm and the disclaimer language was not enough to dispel the impression that those particular turbines would be used in Scotland:
We understood that the picture was of a wind farm built in 1987 and decommissioned in 2006 and therefore the model of turbine was unlikely to still be used in new wind farm projects. Although the small print stated that the photo had not been taken in Scotland, we considered that it was not sufficient to remove the overall impression that the turbines shown were the type that had been used, or would be used, in Scotland.
Finally, the ASA found use of the number 8,750 was misleading and unsubstantiated because it implied that the number of turbines was based on an official Scottish government figure, which was not the case, and exaggerated the number of turbines. In particular, a Scottish government policy document had estimated a total of 5,645 turbines would be required to meet the government’s renewable energy goals.
Although it is a misleading attempt to trash wind power, the Trump ad doesn’t really qualify as greenwashing. That term typically means making false or misleading statements about the purported environmental benefits of one’s own products, services or business practices.
It isn’t reverse greenwashing either because that’s making false or misleading statements about the purported negative environmental impact of a competitor’s products, such as the allegations of plastic bag makers against ChicoBag.
I really don’t know how to classify this ad. I suppose The Donald has found yet another way to defy categorization.
Eric Lane is a patent attorney at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP in San Diego and the author of Green Patent Blog. Mr. Lane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org