Greenwashing & Advertising: Myth or Reality?

Perhaps one of the most interesting areas of everything “green” is the idea of advertisers and “green washing.” Some claim it’s over-exaggerated; others are looking toward government regulations to prevent it from occurring. This is a BusinssGreen report discussing green credentials in advertising.

Firms looking to advertise their green credentials should from today find it easier to avoid falling foul of regulators, after the industry updated its Advertising Codes to provide clearer guidance on the rules governing environmental claims.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) today released a major update of the codes of practice that govern the sector and determine which adverts are deemed unacceptable.

Included for the first time is an environmental claims section in the broadcast code that reflects the requirements already in force in the radio and non-broadcast code. There are also updates to the non-broadcast code to introduce an additional explicit rule to prevent marketers from exaggerating the environmental benefits of their products.

Speaking to BusinessGreen.com, Matt Wilson of CAP said that the new rules were in response to growing consumer concerns about the proliferation of green advertising claims in recent years and fears over exaggerated and misleading environmental claims, colloquially known as “greenwash”.

“We have addressed the anomaly of there not being an environmental section in the broadcast code, and tidied up the rules for advertisers,” he said. “It should give much greater clarity for both consumers and advertisers.”

The new codes will come into effect on September 1 this year. They state that advertisers must ensure that all environmental claims must be clear to consumers and all absolute claims must be backed by a “high level of substantiation”.

Advertisers are also prohibited from presenting their claims as universally accepted if there is a significant division of scientific opinion, and are obliged to base environmental claims on the full lifecycle of the advertised product, unless clearly stated otherwise.

The new rules come just days after the government received a rebuke from the Advertising Standards Authority over a number of its controversial adverts urging people to curb their carbon emissions.

The campaign attracted more than 900 complaints, arguing that the adverts were politically motivated, scientifically inaccurate, or scare-mongering.

The vast majority of the complaints were dismissed by the ASA, which ruled there were no grounds to challenge the adverts’ central claim that climate change is man-made.

However, it did uphold one complaint, ruling that, based on the UN-backed IPCC report on climate change, the government could not state with absolute certainty that “flooding, heat waves and storms will become more frequent and intense” and as a result should have phrased the warning more tentatively.

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