Being seen to be ‘green’ can form an important part of a company’s corporate social responsibility agenda. But the rise in the number of advertisers promoting the environmental credentials of various different products and services has also prompted complaints about whether some ads make exaggerated or misleading claims.
This is why our advertising rules have a whole section dedicated to environmental claims which requires ads for activities, products or services relating to the environment, energy issues or home utilities to explain the basis of, and qualify their environmental claims in ads. Advertisers must also hold robust evidence for any comparisons they are making, acknowledge whether a split in informed expert opinion exists, and make clear any limits to the life cycle of a product.
Claims such as “environmentally friendly” should not be used without qualification unless advertisers can provide convincing evidence that their product will cause no environmental damage, taking into account the full life cycle of the product from manufacture to disposal. Less absolute claims, such as “friendlier”, “greener” or “kinder” are generally less risky, but will still need to be backed by evidence.
Because of the difficulty of providing proof for a specific claim, some advertisers have chosen instead to make a green statement of intent in their advertising. For example, they might claim to be “against environmental damage” or “working towards” or “aiming for” a greener future. The context in which these claims appear is key to judging whether they are likely to mislead. If such claims are likely to be seen as a mission statement or belief, the chances are they won't fall foul of the rules.
As well as proving their claims, advertisers need to be careful not to assume a level of consumer understanding greater than is reasonable, or likely in their ads. This is especially relevant for ads to do with the environment and energy issues, which may highlight technical subjects such as renewable sources and carbon offsetting, for example.
Advertisers should also take into account the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ‘Green Claims Code’ when preparing their ads for activities, products or services relating to the environment, energy issues or home utilities.