New anti-greenwashing guidelines for advertisers: what you need to know
The advertising industry has a significant role to play in the transition towards a net-zero carbon future. However, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has recently called on advertisers, including marketers and broadcasters, to avoid making unqualified net-zero claims in their marketing campaigns. In this article, we will examine why this is important and what it means for the industry.
First, it is crucial to understand what net-zero means. Net-zero refers to achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. This can be achieved by reducing emissions or offsetting them through activities such as tree planting. Achieving net zero has been a focal point in the last few years, with international conferences such as COP27 pushing to drive change.
The new ASA guidance, titled The environment: misleading claims and social responsibility in advertising, was updated in early February (2023) and outlines both broadcast and non-broadcast guidelines to help organisations avoid greenwashing.
The ASA’s call for advertisers to avoid unqualified net-zero claims is aimed at preventing companies from making misleading statements that suggest they are actively working towards a net-zero future when they are not. This could be achieved by using terms such as “carbon-neutral” or “net zero” without providing evidence of how this is being achieved. In 2021, the Competition and Markets Authority found that 40% of firms’ online green claims were misleading to consumers. Such claims can undermine the efforts of genuine net-zero campaigners.
Back your advertising claims with evidence
The ASA is encouraging advertisers to use the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) guidelines to ensure that their marketing claims are accurate and not misleading. These guidelines require advertisers to provide evidence of the steps they are taking to reduce their carbon emissions or offset them. Advertisers must also explain any limitations or caveats to their claims, such as the fact that they are only offsetting a proportion of their emissions.
Some of the main CAP guidelines address making inaccurate claims about the full life cycle of products, showing misleading imagery, omission of significant information, and exaggeration and ambiguity of content.
It’s emphasised that marketers should always ensure that they have robust substantiation for the claims the make, stating that “claims based on future goals relating to reaching net zero or achieving carbon neutrality should be based on a verifiable strategy to deliver them”.
Examples of generic claims that could be misleading if not backed by data and science include:
- Good for the planet
- Good for the land
- Helping to support a more sustainable future
- 100% eco-friendly
- Environmentally friendly
- Zero emissions
- Give back to the environment
- Less plastic
These claims must not be used unless it can be proved that ‘the claim applies to the entire lifecycle of the product or service, from manufacture to disposal.
The UK is certainly not the first to address these issues, with France leading an impressive front on stricter anti-greenwashing laws. Implemented 1 January 2023, Climate and Resilience Law requires that all advertisers must prove their green claims publicly or face financial penalty of up to €100,000. Other terms such as “biodegradable” and “eco-friendly” have been entirely banned from advertising. For now, these laws are only implemented in France, but is it just a matter of time before other countries follow suit?
The Anti-Greenwash Playbook: your inside guide
The importance of accurate net-zero claims extends beyond preventing misleading advertising. It also supports the wider transition towards a net-zero future. Accurate claims can help to increase awareness of the net-zero goal and encourage consumers to make sustainable choices. However, to be effective, advertising must be based on accurate and transparent claims.
That’s where we come in. At Content Coms we bring decades of sustainability expertise to every project, helping brands drive home lasting, meaningful messaging. But we don’t stop there. We’ve crafted an entire Anti-Greenwash Playbook to help organisations on their anti-greenwash journey. Industry leaders have brought the Playbook to both COP26 and COP27, and it has been downloaded around the world. It’s a game-changer. Download your free copy here.
If your business or organisation is ready to address sustainable coms and start the journey, let’s talk about it. Get in contact.