Jul/Aug 2017

Readers' Letters


from Ethical Consumer Issue 167, July/August 2017


Car emissions in the real world
We recently purchased a new Volvo XC90 T8 [petrol] hybrid as a towing vehicle and family car. Beforehand, we compared data on CO2 emissions, electric-only range and average mpg provided by Volvo on its website and in marketing brochures.

We chose the car over other brands and (much cheaper) non-hybrid options because of environmental concerns about the use of fossil fuels, air pollution (our youngest daughter suffers from asthma) and the impacts of Climate Change.

We have had the car around two months and have followed the manufacturer’s recommendations for how to maximise electric-only range and mpg. However, in contrast to the 135 mpg claimed by Volvo, we are only achieving 40 mpg in normal use which means that the CO2 emissions are in excess of 150 g/km rather than the claimed 49 g/km. Also, despite assertions in the marketing information that the vehicle “gives you up to 27 miles of pure electric driving with zero-emissions”, ours does not achieve 27 miles of zero-emission driving in pure electric mode. In fact, we have yet to achieve more than a few miles of zero-emission driving as the petrol engine turns on automatically after a short time when driving in pure electric or hybrid mode.

We live very close to our daughter’s old primary school and drive past each day in ‘pure electric mode’ in order to minimise air pollution and CO2 emissions. But, contrary to the manufacturer’s claims, it is not possible to drive the vehicle with zero-emissions for more than a few minutes, even though the battery is fully charged. We have brought our concerns to Volvo’s attention and had the car returned for tests and the response we have received from Volvo’s Customer Relations was: “As official testing is done in laboratory conditions, you may not be able to replicate in real world driving”.

We are writing to you because we believe it is possible that many other drivers will have had similar experiences with other Volvo plug-in hybrids. And we feel that, if Volvo can do nothing to address our concerns, Ethical Consumer should make prospective purchasers aware of the massive discrepancy between the stated 49 g CO2 emissions, 135 mpg and 27 miles electric range against what it is possible to achieve in reality with the Volvo plug-in hybrid vehicles.
We noticed that, in your 2015 Product Guide to Green Vehicles, Volvo came top in your Ethical Car Guide, but if other drivers and readers of your magazine report similar experiences we feel you might wish to revisit that rating?

Keith & Anna Boxer, by email

Ed: Thanks for this. The sometimes wildly inaccurate mpg and emissions claims of car manufacturers are more remarkable given the VW emissions scandal – see News pages for an update on that story. We will be updating the cars guide next year. Perhaps we should incorporate research into the disparity between claimed and real mpg fuel economy and emissions.1 We invite readers to let us know what they think and share their experiences.


What about Co-op toothpaste?
For your toothpaste product guide, you assessed many that we had neither heard of nor would be able to find on the high street. Yet, very sadly, you did not include the Co-operative’s toothpaste, which is palm oil free, has not been tested on animals, and can be found in your local shop. We leave you to guess the company’s ethos, ethics, its care for people and its politics.

Dr. A. Morovat, by email

Ed: We didn’t include any of the supermarket own-brands in the toothpaste guide because branded products dominate the market. The Co-op was a Best Buy supermarket when we covered them in our last issue (EC166) so they would also be a good option.



Recommended salt levels
In the last edition of Ethical Consumer, you said the NHS advised that adults have 6g of salt a day. This is incorrect and potentially dangerous advice. The NHS recommend “Adults should eat ‘no more’ than 6g of salt a day”. The difference is important. Expert advice I have heard suggests adults need no more than about 1g of salt a day. Please issue a correction in the next edition.

Dr Martin Adams, by email

Ed: Thanks for pointing that out. Quite right. The text of the Baked Beans guide has been amended to say no more than 6g a day. The guide on our website now has a salt and sugar comparison of 34 brands of baked beans, including the supermarkets’. Plus, there’s a pdf of the comparison that you can download from www.ethicalconsumer.org/buyersguides/food/bakedbeans


Call to action on mobile phone industry
As Ethical Consumer subscribers know, mobile phones – so symbolic of modern life in the UK and elsewhere – are often a nightmare from an ethical perspective. While we’ve made some progress on other ubiquitous products like coffee (albeit with still a long way to go) I reckon that issues with mobiles come close to the bottom of the list in terms of ethical awareness. That’s why I’ve started a petition about this on Avaaz: s.coop/25v4x
Please consider signing.

Mary Robertson, by email


Hewlett-Packard boycott
I was sorry to see that Ethical Consumer itself is supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Hewlett-Packard in Israel, e.g. in the take action section (EC164 p.28) you say, “we will plant an olive tree in Palestine for every subscription we sell to those who support the HP boycott”.

I don’t object to you printing information about the boycott, but I think you should leave readers to make their own minds up about whether or not to support any particular boycott. Ethical Consumer would gain more credibility I think as an independent observer, especially when the issues are as complex and thorny as is the case with actions relating to Israel.

This has caused some dissension in our household and the article has severely undermined my partner’s trust in Ethical Consumer – he now regards it as a biased organisation, so I will find it more difficult to persuade him of its value in other areas, so it’s given me a problem!

Janet Upwood, by email

Ed: We are sorry that the HP boycott/tree planting offer has caused dissention in your household. Ethical Consumer offers the planting of an olive tree in Palestine with all new gift subscriptions and extended this offer for a limited time to supporters of the HP boycott, as there would likely be some alignment in the concerns. While we present news about the boycott, our readers remain free to make up their own minds about the issue. However, as a co-operative we have taken the decision to support the academic and cultural boycott of Israel – for further information see this link.



Microbeads concerns
I listened with concern and a degree of alarm to a recent BBC Radio 4 feature (I think it was on a ‘You and Yours’ programme) about ‘microplastics’ and their effects on the environment, particularly the oceans. I guess other subscribers to your excellent ‘Ethical Consumer’ may well have raised the same issue with you, but could I suggest:

  • That in your ethical assessments you include an Ethiscore column for products which include microplastics such as, for example, microbeads made from plastic.
  • That, in your feedback to companies, you recommend that they mark their product packaging as “Free From Microplastics” or words to that effect (if indeed they are free from them) making the point that this would give them a commercial advantage over their competitors. The more that people become aware of the damage and toxicity of microplastics in the environment, the more likely it is they will seek to avoid products containing them.


Apologies if I am repeating what others may already have bombarded you with!
Keep up the good work.

Paul Metsers, by email



From our Forums

Best foot forward
Ethical Shopping means positive buying of ethical products and avoiding negative buying of products you disapprove of, like battery eggs or polluting cars. The guidance of recent Footwear and Sportswear should be shareable and explained to marketing students as they are the part of the new generation and have to be treated and educated in a good manner so, in the future, they can understand the importance of ethical shopping.
Is shopping ethically essential?

Positive buying is favouring ethical products, be they fair trade, organic or cruelty-free. This option is arguably the most important since it directly supports progressive companies. I think ethical consumerism can be defined as the practice of purchasing products and services produced in a way that minimises social and/or environmental damage, while avoiding products and services deemed to have a negative impact on society or the environment.



Call for help with ethical flowers
Can anyone help with info on ethical buying for flowers for wedding days and valentines – I can’t find anything on your website sadly…

Ed: We no longer have an in-date product guide to flowers on our website. However, do check out your local community garden centre if you have one. In Manchester, we have www.hulmegardencentre.org.uk. Alternatively, use a local independent florist or check out our supermarkets guide