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 Advertising Standards Authority.
In 2021 the ASA and CAP will undertake a Climate Change and the Environment project taking stock of the rules regulating environmental claims. This project consists 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.
Please note that this advice article, and others, are likely to be updated in due course.
Marketers should always ensure that they have robust substantiation for the claims they make (Electro Warm (UK & NI) Ltd, 31 January 2007). In addition to a rule requiring the substantiation of claims (Rule 3.7), the Code has a specific section on Environmental Claims (Section 11).
Rule 11.4 states “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 online promotion was headlined "WIN GENUINELY GREEN PRIZES WITH NOUVELLE SOFT" and included text that stated "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 advertiser however was incapable of showing that the camper vans would cause no environmental damage, taking into account their full life-cycle. The ad was therefore deemed problematic (Georgia-Pacific GB Ltd, 30 January 2013).
The ASA considered an advertisement for a rechargeable lawnqu mower, that had to be charged from the mains, that stated "Mow your lawn the environmentally friendly way …”. The ASA considered that, because the advertiser was not able to prove no environmental damage over the full lifecycle of the product, including both manufacturing and charging it, the claim breached the Code (The Enterprise Department Ltd t/a Coopers of Stortford, 20 August 2008). A similar ad, for an electric scooter, that also claimed that the product was environmentally friendly breached the Code for the same reason (Vectrix (UK) Ltd, 7 May 2008).
Similarly, an ad for a spray-on protective coating that claimed “environmentally friendly” was found to breach the Code because the advertiser could not provide evidence to demonstrate the total environmental impact of the product. The ASA concluded that the claim implied the product caused less damage to the environment than it did (Line-X Protective Coatings Ltd, 5 December 2007).
Marketers frequently fall foul of the CAP Code by exaggerating the environmental benefits of their product. For example, a company that offered 100% renewable energy to consumers was found to breach the Code when it made the absolute claim that the product could be used “without harming your world” (Good Energy Ltd, 22 June 2005). Similarly an advert for an instant boiling water tap claimed that the product was “eco friendly”. The evidence for the basis of this claim was found not to have taken into account the full life-cycle of the product and therefore exaggerated the products’ environmental benefits (Quooker UK Ltd, 4 January 2012).
One marketer breached the Code when it described a direct mailing printed on recycled paper as “100% environmentally friendly” (SEEBOARD Energy Ltd, 8 January 2003) and another manufacturer’s description of its product as "totally recyclable for zero environmental legacy” was found to be misleading by exaggeration (Euroclad Ltd, 14 June 2006).
Another marketer made the claim that their fuel additive product was “environmentally friendly” (Greenpower Fuel, 17 June 2009). The claim was found to breach the Code because the marketer was unable to prove it. Even if the product demonstrably resulted in increased fuel efficiency, it is likely that the claim would have to be comparative (“more environmentally friendly”) rather than absolute (“environmentally friendly”). Another ad for a fuel additive product was also found to have exaggerated the products’ environmental benefit by not using a robust testing methodology. (Total UK Ltd, 8 February 2012)
Although the ASA has accepted that some highly stylised or fantastical images such as an oil refinery producing flowers from its chimneys are unlikely to be understood by readers as an accurate depiction of reality or to imply that the activities shown had an environmental benefit, marketers should nonetheless be cautious about overstating their environmental credentials. One ad, which claimed “we use our waste CO2 to grow flowers and our waste sulphur to make super-strong concrete”, breached the Code because the advertiser could not show that most or all of the CO2 and sulphur it produced was recycled in that way (Shell Europe Oil Products Ltd, 7 November 2007).
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).
See other entries on ‘Environment’ and Environmental claims: Electricity from renewable sources - output and emissions claims