In October 2022, the Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") published the findings of its Climate Change and Environment project, which explored consumer understanding of environmental claims. One of the key findings was that there was little consensus as to the meaning of two of the most commonly used terms - "carbon neutral" and "net zero" and that the use of such language could be misleading. With no official definitions for the terms, they remain open to interpretation and this was highlighted in the ASA's project. Some participants of the project were of the belief that the terms signified a direct reduction in carbon emissions and felt misled that offsetting contributed in whole or in part.
It is widely discussed that a change in consumer behaviour is essential for achieving net zero targets and with the influence that advertising has on consumer behaviours, the ASA is taking a proactive role in ensuring that UK advertisers are clear and transparent in their marketing communications. As part of its ongoing strategy, the ASA recently published updates to its guidance on green claims to specifically address the limited understanding of "net zero" and "carbon neutral" claims.
What do you need to know?
The guidance reflects the key principles of the CMA Guidance on Green Claims. In summary advertisers should note the following when making "net zero" and "carbon neutral" claims:
- do not make unqualified claims;
- be transparent and explain the basis of the claims;
- do not omit key information;
- ensure that information provided is accurate and not exaggerated;
- make it clear if carbon emissions are being actively reduced or offset;
- be able to substantiate offsetting claims to the same standard as their other objective claims;
- provide details of the offsetting scheme that they are using;
- base future claims of delivering net zero on a verifiable strategy; and
- ensure that any qualification language is close to the main claims and does not contradict them.
Why does it matter?
The ASA is already aware of advertisers who are breaching the advertising codes of practice by making completely unqualified claims and is taking proactive steps to investigate and address such breaches. The ASA will also be monitoring the use of these types of claims by advertisers for a period of 6 months and if it finds that advertisers are not supporting their claims with adequate evidence, it will ask its sister organisation, the Committee of Advertising Practice to launch a review to establish guidance about what types of evidence would be acceptable.
In addition to the actions of the ASA, advertisers should also consider other factors, including:
- the impact of misleading claims on trust with consumers;
- the impact of misleading claims on the ability to work with certain influencers and brand ambassadors;
- the risk of competitor complaints and competitor advantage;
- the risk of negative press coverage and damage to the brand;
- Competition & Markets Authority ("CMA") investigations – the CMA recently confirmed the launch of its investigation into green claims being made by 3 fashion brands following an initial announcement back in August and it has also announced that the next sector that it will focus on is the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector i.e. essential household goods, such as food and drink, cleaning products, toiletries and personal care items.
What can we do to help?
We can support you and your teams to:
- navigate and comply with these developments by auditing marketing communications; reviewing and advising on specific advertising copy, claims and evidence; and discussing your strategies;
- manage investigations and communications with the regulatory authorities; and
- streamline your internal processes by creating guidance documents and policies and educating your teams via bespoke training workshops.
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