Innocent Guilty in Victory for Putney Strawberry Man

Regulator rules that drinks company's ad was misleading

Matt Palmer being arrested at Innocent Drinks HQ
Matt Palmer being arrested at Innocent Drinks HQ

A campaign by environmentalists against misleading advertising by the Innocent Drinks company has had success with the advertising regulator finding in its favour.

Matt Palmer from Putney dressed as a strawberry during a sit in last June with nine other members of the Plastics Rebellion group at Fruit Towers, the HQ of Innocent Drinks which is majority-owned by Coca-Cola.

The protestors, who also included a pear and a pineapple, were arrested and charged with aggravated trespass. In the event no further action was taken against them.

They were claiming that Innocent Drinks’ “Little Drinks Big Dreams” campaign was ‘greenwashing’ and that the company was exploiting the issue of climate change to sell more of its product even though its activities are environmentally harmful.

Coca-Cola, majority owner of Innocent, is the world’s top plastic polluter, according to Break Free from Plastic having been ranked as such for four years in a row.

At the beginning of June 2021, Plastics Rebellion hand delivered a letter to Douglas Lamont, CEO of Innocent Drinks and Simon Reid, company Sustainability Lead detailing three demands: to pull the advert immediately, to publicly apologise for intentionally misleading greenwashing and to schedule a meeting with Plastics Rebellion experts.

The company had claimed in the advert that buying its drinks contributed to “fixing up the planet” and was evasive when Plastics Rebellion sought to discuss the matter with them.

Now the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have ruled that the advert did breach the advertising code because the campaign implied that buying Innocent products would have a positive environmental impact which is misleading.

The ad was made for the company Mother Advertising Ltd in May 2021.

In its ruling the ASA said, “We considered that the ads would be understood to mean that Innocent was environmentally friendly and that purchasing their products had environmental benefits, we needed to see evidence that was the case. Although we acknowledged that Innocent were undertaking various actions which were aimed at reducing the environmental impact of their products, that did not demonstrate that their products had a net positive environmental impact over their full lifecycles. We also noted that their drinks bottles included non-recycled plastic and that the extraction of raw materials and subsequent processing of those materials in order to produce the bottle would have a negative impact on the environment.”

Plastics Rebellion sit-in at the company's Ladbroke Grove office
Plastics Rebellion sit-in at the company's Ladbroke Grove office

Innocent said, “Our purpose is to make healthy little drinks, and they do have to go in something. We’re genuinely confident that plastic is the most carbon efficient way to get it to people, and that encouraging recycling and the use of deposit return schemes will improve that even more.”

Plastics Rebellion said, “You can’t be a major contributor to a global health and environmental emergency and claim to fix up the planet. Innocent are being disingenuous about the dangers of plastic’s threat to human health and environment, as well as trivialising the horrific scale of the problem by repeating the mantra ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. They’re guilty of brushing the plastic crisis under the carpet and trivialising it. The truth is that the lifecycle of plastic is more carbon intense than aviation; incineration and chemical recycling are toxic; microplastics in the sea and air are a threat to human and animal health; recycling only happens 9% of the time, much plastic waste is still landfilled which is unsustainable - and anyone involved with profiting from plastic knows this.”

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March 4, 2022