Environmental Claims: General guidance

Dec 3rd '16

With the increasing attraction of the “green” pound, all sorts of products are being marketed on their environmental credentials. Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have seen claims for many different ”green” products including utilities, houses, paints, modes of transport, clothing, investment trusts, fridges, paper, furniture, beauty products and many more. The temptation to over-claim in a market in which consumers will often pay a premium for ‘‘sustainable” products or have more brand loyalty to an ”ethical” marketer is enormous and set to increase.


The Code has a section dedicated to environmental claims. That section requires marketers to: explain the basis of environmental claims; qualify claims where necessary; acknowledge whether informed debate exists; unless stated otherwise, use a ‘cradle to grave’ assessment when considering a product’s environmental impact and make clear the limits of the life cycle; hold robust evidence for claims and comparisons and avoid misleading consumers by using confusing or pseudo-scientific claims.


Although consumer understanding of environmental claims is increasing, marketers should be careful not to assume a level of knowledge greater than is reasonable or likely. The ASA has ruled that utility companies have misleadingly implied that the energy consumers used was direct from ”renewable“ sources whereas it came from the National Grid. Similarly, ”carbon offsetting” or being ”carbon neutral” are relatively new concepts to the public and marketers are urged to take care.


Claims such as “environmentally friendly” should not be used without qualification unless marketers can provide convincing evidence that their product will cause no environmental damage taking account of the full life cycle of the product from manufacture to disposal (See ‘Environmental Claims: General ‘Green’ Claims). Such claims are extremely difficult to prove. Less absolute claims, such as “friendlier”, “greener” or “kinder” are generally less risky but marketers must nevertheless hold evidence for the veracity of the claim and make the basis of the comparison clear.


Marketers of products that do not damage the environment should not claim that the product has been changed to make it safe. And, if a product is, by its sheer nature, environmentally damaging, marketers should not imply that by improving it they have stopped an adverse impact. For example, a four-wheel drive might be “greener” if its manufacturer has lowered its emissions but is unlikely to be “green”. It is, of course, legitimate to advertise the environmental ”improvement” that the product has undergone.


Because of the difficulty of providing substantiation for a specific claim, some marketers have chosen instead to make a green statement of intent in their advertising. Marketers might claim to be “against environmental damage” or “working towards” or “aiming for” a greener future. The context in which those claims appear is key to judging whether they are likely to mislead. If such claims are likely to be seen as a mission statement or belief, the chances are readers will not be misled. Again, marketers should be careful and check with the Copy Advice team if they are not sure.


Because the context in which environmental claims are made is changing rapidly, CAP has written advice to help marketers get it right. The number of complaints to the ASA about misleading green claims is increasing and the advice here and in the other entries on ‘Environmental Claims’ is subject to regular review.


Marketers should be aware of DEFRA’s Green Claims Code (www.gov.uk/government/publications/green-claims-guidance).


Source: CAP


Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


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