In 2021 and 2022 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) undertook a Climate Change and the Environment (CCE) project taking stock of the rules regulating environmental claims. This project consisted of three concurrent strands:
- Proactive regulation: proactively looking at environmental claims in several priority areas with a view to updating our position on emerging and existing themes and taking action against advertisers who use green claims in a way that is likely to mislead or cause harm.
- Standards fit for the 2020s: taking stock of how effective our rules and guidance are in governing environmental claims.
- Knowledge, education and communication: updating our existing resources to make them easily accessible, and creating new training materials and other educational resources to improve industry’s understanding and overall compliance with our rules on misleading and harmful environmental claims.
Marketers should always ensure that they have robust substantiation for the claims they make (Magnatech Technology Ltd, 25 May 2022). In addition to a rule requiring the substantiation of claims, the Code has a specific section on Environmental Claims (Section 11).
- Full life cycle claims
Advertising rules state “Marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. If a general claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product might be justifiable. Marketers must ensure claims that are based on only part of the advertised product’s life cycle do not mislead consumers about the product’s total environmental impact.”
An ad for an electric scooter which included the claim “be environmentally…friendly” was ruled to be misleading and in breach of advertising rules (TIER Operations Ltd, 6 April 2022).
The advertiser argued it was an implicit comparative claim and provided evidence to show the scooter had less of a negative impact on the environment than alternative methods of transport but was not able to demonstrate it caused no environmental damage at all. The ASA concluded that the claim was likely to be understood as an absolute one, suggesting the scooter caused no environmental damage over its full lifetime.
A promotion headed “WIN GENUINELY GREEN PRIZES WITH NOUVELLE SOFT” included text which said, “We’re offering you two chances to win one of our 5 brand new Volkswagen Camper Vans, all of which have an engine meeting stringent Euro V emission levels…”. The advertising was ruled to breach the Code because the advertiser could not demonstrate that the camper vans would cause no environmental damage, taking into account their full life-cycle (Georgia-Pacific GB Ltd, 30 January 2013).
Ads for fruit drinks which included claims and imagery about the damage being inflicted on the planet by human activity and which went on to suggest ways to change this were also ruled to be misleading (Innocent Ltd, 23 February 2022).
Animated characters in the ad were shown singing “We’re messing up the planet. We’re messing up real good…we’re messing around with nature, we’re messing up the sea…” while animation showed images of expelled pollutants, litter, and dirty rivers. As the song changed to “Let’s get fixing up the planet. Fix it up real good…” and a voiceover said “Reduce. Re-use. Recycle. Because there is no planet B. If we’re looking after nature she’ll be looking after me…Innocent. Little drinks with big dreams for a healthier planet” the animation changed to a greener colour scheme, showed trees being planted and images of fruit being squeezed into an Innocent drinks bottle.
The ASA accepted that some consumers might understand the claims as suggesting that the advertiser had made an aspirational commitment to do better for the environment or might interpret the ad as a call to action for everyone more generally to do better for the planet.
However, it also considered that many might instead understand the ad to be suggesting that purchasing the advertiser’s products would result in environmental benefits which would help ‘fix up the planet.’ The advertiser was able to demonstrate that they took action to reduce the environmental impact of their business and products but could not show that their products had a net positive environmental impact over their full lifecycles, and the ads breached rules of the Code.
- Omission of significant information
Advertisers should also take care not to mislead by omitting information about their environmental impact. Complaints about two posters advertising a bank were upheld because they omitted significant information about the brand’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (HSBC UK Bank plc 19 October 2022).
One ad included the claim that the bank was “aiming to provide up to $1 trillion in financing and investment globally to help…clients transition to net zero”. The second highlighted that the bank was “helping to plant 2 million trees, which [would] lock in 1.25 million tonnes of carbon over their lifetime.”
The ASA concluded that these unqualified claims about environmentally beneficial work, while accurate in isolation, were misleading because they did not make clear that the advertiser was simultaneously involved in financing businesses which made significant contributions to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions and that it would continue to do so for many years into the future. The ruling noted the emissions (more than 65.3 million tonnes) which were produced by businesses financed by the bank’s investment.
The ruling also highlighted that the natural world imagery which went along with these claims contributed to the impression that that the advertiser was making a meaningful contribution towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Exaggeration and ambiguity
The Copy Advice team recommends that marketers should hold robust substantiation for any “green” claims they make. To avoid the risk of exaggeration, marketers should be wary of making absolute claims and should use qualified claims or comparative claims such as “cleaner” and “greener” (Rule 11.3). Claims like “The greenest stoves on earth” are likely to be impossible to substantiate (Clearview Stoves Ltd, 11 April 2012).
An ad for dairy-free milk alternatives which included the claim “GOOD FOR THE PLANET” was also ruled to breach the Code (Alpro (UK) Ltd, 20 October 2021).
The ASA acknowledged that the ad also included “RECIPE TO A HEALTHIER PLANET” and “DELICIOUSLY PLANT BASED” but considered it was not clear that these were intended to clarify the claim “GOOD FOR THE PLANET.” The ruling noted that the claim was open to interpretation: it could be understood as a comparison with equivalent dairy products or that there was a net positive environmental benefit derived from producing the advertised products. The ASA concluded that the claim was ambiguous claim and therefore breached ad rules, which states that the basis of environmental claims must be clear and that unqualified claims can mislead if they omit significant information.
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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