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The ASA’s 10 recommendations to avoid ‘green sheening’

The Government needs to encourage consumers and businesses to be greener if it is to meet environmental targets, and consumers are increasingly looking for 'greener' credentials when deciding what to buy.

This has not been lost on marketing folk – ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, ‘natural’, ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘energy efficient’, ‘carbon neutral’, ‘eco’, ‘recycled’, ‘recyclable’, ‘biodegradable’, ‘low emission’, ‘plastic-free’ and ‘helping save the planet’ are all the sort of terms increasingly being used to woo consumers that are increasingly moving towards environmentally friendly products and services.

While many businesses make genuine, credible claims, others are guilty of ‘greenwashing’ or ‘green sheening’ – making unfounded or deceptive green claims to persuade consumers to buy their products or services.

Unsurprisingly, such practices have prompted a response from UK regulators.

Update to guidance on misleading environmental claims

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) has updated its guidance on advertising containing misleading environmental and social responsibility claims (the “Guidance”).

The Guidance was originally published at the end of 2021 by the Committees of Advertising Practice (“CAP”) and the Broadcasting Committees of Advertising Practice (“BCAP”) to help businesses comply with both Committees’ codes on advertising. The rules and supporting guidance were designed to stop businesses making exaggerated claims about their environmental credentials in response to the increased international and domestic focus on climate change and net zero targets.

If ASA rules that a business has made a misleading or false environmental claim that breaches the relevant code, the business will be asked to amend or remove the advert. ASA’s rulings are published weekly which can create negative publicity and risks reputational damage to businesses who break the rules. ASA has a range of sanctions available depending on the nature of the advertisement, from working with social media companies to have non-compliant content removed to ‘naming and shaming’ non-compliant advertiser details online. If advertisers persistently make false or misleading claims, ASA can refer to other statutory enforcement bodies for the further action, such as Trading Standards.

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The update

CAP and BCAP acknowledge the importance of advertising in helping to promote more sustainable consumer behaviour and improve business practice. The Guidance does not prevent marketers from making environmental claims about their products or services, but it identifies factors that make such claims more likely or less likely to comply with the CAP and BCAP codes.

This is the second update to the Guidance by ASA, drawing on the principles established by recent ASA rulings and the principles from the Competition and Markets Authority’s ‘Making environmental claims on goods and services’ guidance.

Key guidance

  1. Marketers must consider the level of consumers’ knowledge and their likely interpretation of any environmental claim made.
  2. Imagery of the natural world which creates an impression that the business is making a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gases should be carefully considered before being used in adverts.
  3. Where recycling claims are made, recycling information must be clear and any limitations detailed.
  4. Adverts must be clear on which specific consumer action or behavioural change will result in environmental benefit.
  5. Sufficient information should be provided about any particular standards that the marketer claims to meet.
  6. Marketers should balance information about the business’s ongoing contribution to environmental harm, particularly in sectors in which the consumer is less likely to be aware of the business’s overall impact on the environment.
  7. Absolute claims (for example “environmentally friendly” or “sustainable”) must be substantiated.
  8. Environmental claims which relate only to specific products should make their scope clear, ensuring that they are not understood as being representative of the entire business.
  9. Adverts presenting a business’s negative environmental impact as being historic are likely to mislead if the business still has a substantial negative impact.
  10. Information about environmental initiatives should contextualise the business’ environmental claims and provide information about the role that the initiative will have in the business’ net zero plan, detailing how and when net zero will be achieved.

Help with environmental marketing

The ASA has built a resource hub relating to the regulation of environmental advertising which can be found here.

If you would like to discuss anything detailed in the article above, please contact Tristan Meears-White or another member of our expert Commercial Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

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