Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 22 September 2022
Law stated as at: 12 October 2022
Adding to the growing collection of greenwashing-related guidelines published by UK regulators, the ASA has issued further guidance for marketers wishing to make green claims, this time with a particular focus on the funeral sector. In its guidance, the ASA provides three tips marketers should follow to ensure their ads comply with advertising rules.
Firstly, the ASA advises that marketers should be careful when making absolute claims such as “green” or “eco-friendly”. In order to make such claims, the ASA requires marketers to ensure that the basis of their claim is made clear and that they hold a high level of relevant and robust substantiation. By way of example, the ASA recently found in a ruling against a coffin manufacturer, that an “eco-friendly” claim used without qualification would be interpreted to mean that the coffins the claim applied to would either have no environmental impact or an overall positive impact on the environment. The impact would be assessed over the full lifecycle of the coffins and, therefore, would include cremation or burial. As the marketer was unable to meet this high level of substantiation and show this was the case, the claim was held to be misleading. In its guidance, the ASA did clarify, however, that comparative claims that a product or service was “greener” or “friendlier” could be accepted where the marketer holds evidence to show that the product or service has an overall positive impact on the environment over their previous products or competitor products, and the basis of the comparison is made clear in the ad.
Secondly, in a similar way, the ASA reiterates in its guidance that marketers should account for the full lifecycle of their product or service in their green claims, unless clearly stated otherwise. The ASA advises that marketers should make it clear in the ad where the claim is based on only part of the lifecycle to ensure it is not misleading about the overall environmental impact. For example, in another recent adjudication, the ASA ruled that a claim that a funeral was “green” was misleading as, again, in the absence of qualification, consumers would understand it to mean that a type of funeral or coffin had either no impact or a positive impact on the environment over the whole of its lifecycle, a claim the marketer could not substantiate.
Finally, the ASA also confirms marketers should take care not to exaggerate their recyclability claims and ensure their claims cover all materials used in the manufacturing process. A marketer who claimed its coffins were made of “100% recycled cardboard” was found by the ASA to be in breach of advertising codes as it was unable to show how all materials used (in particular, the outer layer and glue) were recycled.
Why this matters:
While the ASA’s guidance note does have a particular slant on the funeral sector, the “tips” and examples it provides will apply to any similar green claims made by other marketers. Such guidance further cements the ASA’s existing approach to green claims and hints that the ASA will continue to take a strong stance against greenwashing across a broad range of market sectors.