Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), and The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 23 June 2023
Law stated as at: 12 July 2023
CAP and BCAP have published an updated version of their guidance on misleading environmental claims (originally published in December 2021) to assist marketers with interpreting rules in the context of environment-related advertising claims.
The new section, entitled “Claims about initiatives designed to reduce environmental impact”, sits in 3.1 of the guidance, and has been carved out of principles established in recent ASA rulings and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)’s “Making environmental claims on goods and services” guidance (Green Claims Code).
The guidance has been updated with the aim of addressing situations where marketers have made positive environmental claims about specific aspects of its businesses but in reality much of the marketer’s business model is responsible for a significant amount of environmental harm or emissions. The concern is that such adverts are likely to be understood as making claims about the business’s wider environmental impact, especially if the claims are not sufficiently contextualised and, therefore, these may exaggerate the business’s overall environmental credentials and be more likely to mislead consumers.
It identifies a number of factors that make green claims more or less likely to comply with the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) and the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code). These include:
- Absolute green claims (such as “sustainable” or “environmentally friendly”) must be supported by a high level of substantiation.
- Environmental claims that relate narrowly to specific products or services should make this clear, to ensure that they are not understood as being representative of the entire business.
- Claims that a product can be recycled must be substantiated and must make clear any limitations.
- Marketers should consider consumers’ likely interpretation of a claim and consider how knowledgeable the audience is likely to be.
- Where specific factors are likely to contribute to a consumer’s interpretation of a claim, these factors should be included in the advertisement.
- Care should be taken with imagery of the natural world, which may, depending on the context, contribute to the impression that the business is making a significant contribution towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Advertisements must make clear if any advertised environmental benefit will only result from specific consumer action or behavioural change.
- Advertisements which focus on specific initiatives as a way of achieving net zero should clearly contextualise those claims with information about the role that the initiative would play in that net zero plan, and how and when net zero emissions will be achieved.
- When making claims about initiatives intended to meet net zero, the timeframe to achieve a net-zero goal is likely to be considered material information and should be stated in the advertisement.
- If an advertiser references its compliance with a particular standard, the advertisement should provide consumers with sufficient information to understand the meaning of that standard.
Why this matters:
The updated guidance is a clear example of how the ASA and the CMA are joining forces to tackle greenwashing in order to protect consumers from misleading environmental claims. Greenwashing is clearly a strong focus for both the ASA and CMA, and enforcement of both the CAP and BCAP codes is expected to grow, with the ASA stating they both have “ambitious programmes of work which aim to tighten compliance with our Advertising Codes and the CMA’s Green Claims Code.”
With the magnifying glass firmly pointed on greenwashing for the foreseeable future, there has never been a more important time for marketers to ensure they are up to speed, understand and are in compliance with the rules surrounding environmental claims (ensuring any such claims can be substantiated with the requisite evidence, and are not likely to be construed by consumers as misleading).