New 2023 advertising guidance on environmental claims

As public attention on climate change continues to grow and sustainability becomes increasingly important both to consumers and investors, so too does the risk of companies being called out for making unsubstantiated environmental and sustainability claims. With a marked increase in recent greenwashing disputes,  updated guidance has been released to help companies make accurate and reliable claims about their environmental impact.

The guidance, which was published by the UK’s Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), provides advice on how to make clear, accurate, and verifiable claims about carbon neutrality and net-zero emissions. The guidance is designed to help businesses ensure that their claims are not misleading or deceptive, and to provide consumers with a clear understanding of a company’s environmental impact.

Key takeaways

One of the key recommendations in the guidance is that companies should be transparent about how they have calculated their carbon footprint and how they have offset their emissions. Companies should also ensure that they have used credible and verified methodologies to calculate their emissions, and that they have used recognized carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality or net-zero emissions.

The guidance also advises companies to avoid making absolute claims about being “100% carbon neutral” or “completely net-zero.” Instead, companies should use phrases like “net-zero carbon emissions” or “carbon neutral operations,” which indicate that emissions have been significantly reduced but not completely eliminated.

Furthermore, the guidance encourages companies to be clear about the scope of their claims, such as whether they apply to specific products, services, or business operations. Companies should also be careful not to make claims that are difficult to substantiate, such as claiming to be the “greenest” or the “most sustainable” without providing evidence to support these claims.

A detailed breakdown of the guidance on environmental claims

In light of the low understanding and lack of consensus around the meaning of carbon neutral and net zero claims, CAP and BCAP advise advertisers to take into account the following guidance, which draws on key principles of the CMA guidance, and, if followed, means that claims are less likely to mislead:

  • Avoid using unqualified carbon neutral, net zero or similar claims. Information explaining the basis for these claims helps consumers’ understanding, and such information should therefore not be omitted.
  • Marketers should ensure that they include accurate information about whether (and the degree to which) they are actively reducing carbon emissions or are basing claims on offsetting, to ensure that consumers do not wrongly assume that products or their manufacture generate no or few emissions.
  • Claims based on future goals relating to reaching net zero or achieving carbon neutrality should be based on a verifiable strategy to deliver them.
  • Where claims are based on offsetting, they should comply with the usual standards of evidence for objective claims set out in this guidance, and marketers should provide information about the offsetting scheme they are using.
  • Where it is necessary to include qualifying information about a claim, that information should be sufficiently close to the main aspects of the claim for consumers to be able to see it easily and take account of it before they make any decision. The less prominent any qualifying information is, and the further away it is from any main claim being made, the more likely the claim will mislead consumers. For further information, see CAP’s guidance on the use of qualifications.

Course of action

Following publication of updated Advertising Guidance, the ASA will carry out monitoring for up to six months, through which we will assess the impact of the Advertising Guidance on carbon neutral and net zero claims in advertising. They will also gather information to assess how such claims are being substantiated.

If that monitoring concludes that carbon neutral/net zero claims are being made but the types of evidence that underpins them is questionable, the ASA will invite CAP to launch a review which would seek to provide guidance about what forms of evidence are more or less likely to be acceptable to substantiate such claims in advertising. That review will take account of expert insights, policy developments in the UK and other jurisdictions and, where appropriate, consultation with interested parties.

In the meantime, the ASA is aware that some organisations are making carbon neutral and net zero claims which are entirely unqualified and do not explain the basis on which they are being achieved. Unqualified claims are likely to breach existing rules, and the ASA will be taking proactive action immediately to address such claims.

Overall, the updated guidance provides a useful framework for companies to ensure that their claims about carbon neutrality and net-zero emissions are clear, accurate, and verifiable. By following this guidance, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and help consumers make informed choices about the products and services they purchase. As the world continues to move towards a more sustainable future, it is important that companies play their part by taking meaningful action to reduce their environmental impact, and by communicating their efforts in a transparent and credible way.

Access the updated guidelines here.

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