It was overdue given it first appeared in 2003, but finally HM Govt has produced new, more environmentally friendly (please check DEFRA is claiming this-Ed) “Green Claims Guidance.” Industry stakeholders are relieved there don’t seem to be any new rules. Mark Smith’s carbon-free report is here.
Who: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ("DEFRA")
When: 2 February 2011
Where: United Kingdom
Law stated as at: 3 March 2011
DEFRA has published new Green Claims Guidance (the "Guidance") on how the environmental attributes of products, services and organisations should be communicated so that they can be more easily understood by consumers.
The Guidance is designed to help consumers make more informed judgements about what they buy, prevent misleading claims and encourage the development of greener products, and following it should prevent advertisers falling foul of regulations such as the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the CAP/BCAP Codes.
On the launch of the new Guidance, Environment Minister Lord Henley commented:
"Sales of ‘green’ goods contribute billions of pounds towards the economy while helping to reduce our impact on the environment. If people are making the effort to buy green it is only right that we try to make the process as easy as possible.
Our guide will make things easier for both business and consumer – helping restore public faith in environmental advertising and acting as a resource for companies developing more sustainable products."
The Guidance asserts that the true value of environmental claims rests on the assurance that claims are both credible to consumers and reflect a genuine benefit to the environment, and stresses the importance of environmental claims being clear, accurate, relevant and substantiated. It recommends a three-step approach for those making environmental claims to this end:
• Ensure the content of the claim is relevant and reflects a genuine benefit to the environment (see pages 10-16 of the Guidance):
– Those making environmental claims should first consider the full environmental impact of their product (and supply chain), service or organisation, and check that the claim is relevant to those environmental impacts and/or their business and consumer interests.
– Claims should reflect an additional benefit to the environment beyond what is already happening in the current market, and go over and above what is required by law. They should not focus on environmental issues of low significance or importance.- Comparative claims must be fair and relevant (i.e. against products/organisations serving the same function and using the same methods/assumptions for comparison) and the basis of the comparison should be clearly stated in the claim.
• Present the claim clearly and accurately (see pages 17-24 of the Guidance):
-The whole claim (including imagery) should be a truthful and accurate representation of the scale of the environmental benefit and should not overstate the benefit achieved.
-The scope and boundaries of the claim should be clear, such as whether it refers to the whole product or organisation or just one aspect. The specific environmental impact or processes it addresses should also be clear.
– The claim should use plain language that is clear and easy for consumers to understand. The use of vague, ambiguous words such as "environmentally friendly" or jargon that consumers may find confusing or misleading should be avoided.
– Supplementary information that qualifies the main claim should be clear, prominent and complementary. However, before it is used, it should be considered whether the main claim could in fact be made clearer so that supplementary information is not needed.
– Even if literally true, claims should not be easily misinterpreted or omit significant information. All imagery should be relevant to the claim and not likely to mislead.
• Ensure the claim can be substantiated (see pages 25-29 of the Guidance):
– Claims should be supported by robust and/or scientifically accepted evidence and should be reviewed and updated over time to ensure that they remain relevant.
-Those making environmental claims should ensure that they have been measured using the most appropriate standard methods and consider seeking independent assurance from a third party.
– Claims about aspirations of future environmental performance should be supported by evidence and action, such as publicly available plans or strategies.
– Evidence should be retained by those making environmental claims, be transparent about the assumptions and approach taken, and be made available to those seeking reasonable justification of it.
Why this matters:
The area of environmental claims has long been a tricky one, with the Advertising Standards Authority regularly upholding complaints in this area.
DEFRA's Guidance, which is informed by a suite of research and designed to incorporate the requirements of existing UK regulations and international standards relating to "green" claims, should make it easier for advertisers to stay within the law and come up with robust, considered environmental claims, and should therefore be welcomed by businesses and consumers alike.
The full Guidance can be found here.