Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 10 February 2023
Law stated as at: 14 February 2023
What happened: In 2021, the ASA’s Climate Change and the Environment project identified that advertising claims such as “carbon neutral” and “net zero” were the most commonly encountered claims, but there was little consensus as to their meaning.
Now, in 2023, the ASA has updated its guidance on misleading environmental claims and social responsibility, in an attempt to combat the low understanding and lack of consensus around such claims.
As a result, the updated ASA guidance now advises advertisers to:
- Avoid unqualified claims – “carbon neutral” or “net zero” (or similar claims) should be avoided. Additionally, all such claims should be accompanied with information explaining the basis of these claims to help the consumers understand how the claim has been made.
- Provide clear and accurate information – ensure that any claims are clear and include accurate information. For example, whether (and to what degree) the claim is regarding an active reduction of carbon emissions or whether it is a claim based on offsetting.
- Ensure verifiable strategy to delivery – any claims for future goals to reaching “net zero” or achieving “carbon neutrality” should be based on a clear, verifiable strategy to deliver them.
- Provide details of offsetting evidence and scheme – when there are claims based on offsetting, these claims should comply with the usual standards of evidence required for objective claims as set out by the ASA. In particular, advertisers should also provide details of the offsetting scheme that they are using.
- Make qualifying information clearly visible – where there is qualifying information about a claim, make sure that information is placed sufficiently closely to the claim itself. The aim is for consumers to be able to see it easily see and take account of the qualifying information and claim, before they make any decisions.
Why this matters:
The ASA has stated that it will be carrying out monitoring for up to six months to assess the impact of the updated ASA guidance in relation to carbon-neutral and net-zero advertising claims. As a result of that monitoring, if the ASA finds that the “types of evidence that underpins them [the carbon neutral and net zero claims] is questionable”, the ASA has announced that it will invite the Committee of Advertising Practice to launch a review to provide further guidance on what is acceptable substantiation for such claims.
In the meantime, the ASA has also provided a warning that it is already aware of some organisations who are making carbon-neutral and net-zero claims which are “entirely unqualified and do not explain the basis on which they are being achieved”. For these situations, the ASA has stated that it will be taking proactive action immediately.
This, along with the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) recent launch of its second market investigation into greenwashing claims (specifically looking into consumer goods – you can read our insight here), clearly demonstrates that greenwashing continues to be an increasingly high-risk area.
Businesses should remain alert for further updates from the CMA and ASA, and take this opportunity to review and strengthen the substantiation for their sustainability and environmentally claims, especially ensuring compliance with the advice above in relation to “carbon neutral” and “net zero” (or similar).