New guidance providing further clarity for businesses wanting to make environmental claims has been issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Much of the content will be very familiar to advertisers because the Green Claims Guidance reflects the Advertising Codes that require truthfulness and clarity in green claims.

What does Defra’s guidance aim to do? In short, it’s about helping businesses wanting to promote their green credentials make clear, accurate and credible claims. Like the Advertising Codes the intention is to promote fair competition between business and, in turn, consumer trust and confidence.

In particular, the guidance will help provide clarity in areas not covered by the Advertising Codes such as packaging, labelling and public relations. It provides a step-by-step guide on how to provide information to consumers in a way that is not unfair or misleading.

In summary, the guidance outlines the key principles businesses should adhere to when making an environmental claim:

  • Check the claim is relevant and reflects a genuine benefit to the environment
  • have a clear idea of the main environmental impacts of your product, service or organisation
  • Present claims clearly and accurately
  • use plain language that is not vague or ambiguous, or jargon that may be misunderstood
  • Check the claim can be readily substantiated
  • evidence to substantiate a claim must be clear and robust and have been tested using the most appropriate standard methods

The ASA’s work in this area complements Defra’s guidance.

Over the last few years, the ASA has responded to rising complaints from members of the public concerned about advertisers over-exaggerating the benefits of their product, service or organisation to the environment. Consumers have come to label these kinds of claims as ‘greenwash’. But the work of the ASA has helped to bring these sorts of claims under control, meaning that there have been fewer complaints.

Key ASA adjudications have resulted in high profile ad campaigns having to be withdrawn. These rulings have established precedents and set a benchmark for the wider industry on the kinds of green claims that are acceptable and the kind of evidence that is required when making them. Ongoing training events for business and a stakeholder consultation seminar have also helped establish parameters for environmental and ethical claims. Further, following a public consultation on the Advertising Codes in 2009, a dedicated section on the environment in a single Broadcast Code provides greater clarity for the public and business.

The ASA will continue to respond quickly and effectively to concerns about green claims in ads that are untruthful or unclear. But the public can be more confident than ever that the vast majority of environmental claims adhere to the Advertising Codes. Now, with Defra’s guidance providing further clarification, advertisers have a clear green light for making these claims in the future.

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