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The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) used the United Nations World Environment Day on Sunday 5 June to issue an update on their work on their Climate Change and Environment project since their last statement in September 2021. This statement set out 3 outcomes that go beyond the ASA’s existing work on environmental advertising:
- The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has published further guidance on environmental claims, but is also focusing on the broader issue of social responsibility in relation to environmental aspects in advertising, which poses additional challenges for advertisers.
- A series of reviews on specific key topics. The first of these dealt with green claims in advertisements for heating/energy and transport. The second review looks at claims on waste (e.g. “biodegradable”) and the third on claims on meat and milk production and plant-based substitutes.
- The third outcome will be an examination of consumer understanding of claims such as “carbon neutral” and “net zero”; and “hybrid” referring to electric vehicles.
What is the result of the examination of claims in the heat/energy and transport sectors?
In fact, the result of the review so far is only the creation of a list of issues that need to be looked at in more detail, including:
- What is the appropriate justification for targeting requirements to go to net zero by a specific date, e.g. B. “We want to be net zero by 2050”?
- Are claims of narrow environmental benefit used by big polluters to give a misleading impression of their overall environmental impact?
- What is the appropriate justification for energy tariffs advertised as “green” or “renewable”?
- How can claims of “carbon neutral” and “carbon free” be substantiated?
- How should the ASA deal with certain requirements for hybrid and electric vehicles, e.g. B. emission-free and self-charging?
- How can airlines claim to offer carbon neutral flights?
The ASA will respond to both misleading green claims and those that are socially irresponsible using a combination of “carrot and stick” methods, including but not limited to investigations and training, and will provide more guidance specifically at a later date publish for these sectors .
Improved access to green entitlement decisions
The ASA has also compiled a summary of the most important environmental advertising decisions (although readers of this blog will be familiar with many of them…), as well as a more comprehensive database of around 57 published decisions. The ASA’s website also has a page on climate change and environmental claims. Finally, there is a link to CAP’s new guidance on misleading environmental claims and social responsibility – and you should look in Section 4 from page 12 for particularly interesting new material on social responsibility that will have a significant impact on many sectors. We’ll write more about that shortly.
The ASA will release the results of its research on consumer understanding of carbon neutral and net-zero entitlements and entitlements for electric and hybrid vehicles later this summer, which will feed into its review of the heating/energy and transport sectors as well broader work.
The ASA also works with regulators such as the Financial Conduct Authority and Ofgem, as well as BEIS and various environmental advertising associations, but most notably the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The CMA recently published its Green Claims Code and, with the support of the ASA, is now focusing on fast fashion claims.
Finally, in the summer of 2022, the ASA will commission research into consumer understanding of “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” claims, and in particular whether these are sometimes ambiguous. The investigation of the information on waste such as “recyclable” and “biodegradable” should be completed by the end of this year, the verification of the information on meat and dairy products and vegetable substitutes should take place in 2023.
From the White Knight to the Green Knight
The ASA often sees itself as the White Knight, or knight in shining armor, protecting consumers from predatory advertisers. And sometimes it is just that. However, the ASA now wants to regroup as the Green Knight and help consumers separate the correct claims from the misleading or unfounded ones. The danger arises when the standard of proof is set so high that any minor error of proof or minor linguistic ambiguity is automatically counted as not just a misleading, but a “materially misleading” claim leading to a violation of the Code. Such was the fate that befell Hyundai and its promotion of hydrogen fuel cell powered cars. We would argue that the ASA overzealously applied the rules in this case, which only serves to stifle one of the key benefits of advertising that help achieve net zero, which is product innovation.
So going forward, we will wait and see if the ASA manages to strike the right balance between protecting the truth in environmental advertising on the one hand and empowering advertisers to complement and innovate with new, greener products on the other. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the topic. In relation to your specific circumstances, you should seek advice from a specialist.
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