Have you seen the ASA’s updated guidance on green claims?

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The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published an update to its guidance on misleading green claims that demonstrates its collaboration with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and their joint commitment to protect consumers from 'greenwashing'.

What are green claims?

We discussed green claims and the ASA’s and CMA’s guidance in our previous article “Are your green claims compliant?”.    

What does the new ASA guidance say?

The guidance identifies factors that make green claims more likely or less likely to comply with the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) and the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code) (Advertising Codes) and draws on the principles established by recent ASA rulings and the principles from the CMA’s “Making environmental claims on goods and services” guidance (Green Claims Code).  

The new section (entitled “Claims about initiatives designed to reduce environmental impact” in section 3.1) now includes additional guidance for marketers to consider when making green claims.  

Below is a list of some of the key updates:  

  • Marketers should consider consumers’ likely interpretation of a claim and consider how knowledgeable the audience is likely to be.
  • Where specific factors are likely to contribute to a consumer’s interpretation of a claim, these factors should be included in the advertisement.
  • Advertisements must make clear if any advertised environmental benefit will only result from specific consumer action or behavioural change.
  • If an advertiser references its compliance with a particular standard, the advertisement should provide consumers with sufficient information to understand the meaning of that standard.
  • Claims that a product can be recycled must be substantiated and must make clear any limitations to this.
  • Claims which relate narrowly to specific products should make this scope clear, to ensure that they are not understood as being representative of the entire business.
  • Where businesses are responsible for a significant amount of harmful emissions or other environmental harm, marketers should include balancing information about the business’s significant ongoing contribution to emissions or other environmental harm — particularly in sectors in which consumers are less likely to be aware of the business’s overall contribution to emissions or other environmental harm.
  • Care should be taken with imagery of the natural world, which may, depending on the context, contribute to the impression that the business is making a significant contribution towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Absolute green claims (such as ‘sustainable’ or ’environmentally friendly’) must be supported by a high level of substantiation.
  • Advertisements which present a business’s negative environmental impact as being in the past are likely to mislead if the business is still creating a significant negative impact.  Referring to negative impact in the past tense is likely to suggest that a business has moved on from those activities.
  • Advertisements which focus on specific initiatives as a way of achieving net zero should clearly contextualise those claims with information about the role that the initiative would play in that net zero plan, and how and when net zero emissions will be achieved.
  • When making claims about initiatives intended to meet net zero, the timeframe to achieve a net zero goal is likely to be considered material information and should be stated in the advertisement. 

Why the new guidance? 

The ASA and CMA both have ambitious programmes of work which aim to tighten compliance with the Advertising Codes and the (CMA’s) Green Claims Code. The ASA has stated that this is because “the stakes are high” due to the Government setting ambitious legally binding net zero targets for the UK and that consumer behaviour change in the key high carbon emitting sectors will be crucial if these targets are to be met.  

This, in part, explains the increase in ASA rulings on green claims that we have seen, particularly those against high carbon emitting sectors such as oil and gas, aviation and the fast-moving consumer goods sector.  

The ASA’s view is that businesses have a limited window of opportunity to demonstrate that advertising is part of the solution, otherwise, statutory interventions in advertising may follow.   

Finally, the ASA stated that it, along with the CMA, will continue to take a firm but proportionate approach in the coming months and years.  

How should brands respond to the new guidance?

Brands wanting to make green claims should ensure that those claims do not mislead, and that the consumer is provided with sufficient information about the claim.  Further, where any substantiation is required, it should be held before the claim is made.  If unsure about whether a particular claim complies with the ASA’s and CMA’s guidance, brands should seek le

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.

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