Guidance On Environmental Advertising

Honest Environmental Advertising Matters

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) provides guidance on environmental advertising to help businesses ensure that their ads are transparent, accurate, and compliant with regulations.

Businesses have an important role in tackling climate change and other environmental harms. For companies looking to show off their environmental efforts, it’s essential to avoiding any misleading claims or unsubstantiated greenwashing.

The UK’s Climate Change Committee and other experts have stressed the importance of changing consumer behaviour to achieve net zero targets. Given the strong influence of advertising on consumer behaviour, understanding CAP’s guidance is also vital for businesses looking to make a positive impact.

Educational content written by Carys Burton 

author, Carys Burton

Guidance On Environmental Advertising - Make Clear and Substantiated Claims

When it comes to environmental advertising, the importance of clear and accurate claims cannot be overstated. Businesses that want to promote their green credentials need to ensure that their claims are not only honest but clearly communicated to consumers.

No business wants to mislead its customers. Some information may be necessary for consumers to understand the basis of the claim. Marketers must also consider the customers’ likely interpretation of any claims they make.

If a claim could have multiple different interpretations, additional information is required.

This is to make the meaning of the claim clear.

For example, if an ad claims that a product is “eco-friendly,” it needs to explain what that means in practical terms.

As well as this, explain why it’s better for the environment than other products.

Guidance on Environmental Advertising - Your claims should be clear and substantiated
Your claims should be not only clear, but also substantiated

Guidance On Environmental Advertising - Back Your Claims Up With Evidence

As well as making sure any claims made in advertising are clearly communicated, they also have to be backed up by evidence. This is particularly the case for absolute claims, such as ‘the greenest’ or ‘the most eco-friendly’.

This substantiation can be done if the advertised product provides a total environmental benefit over the marketer’s previous product.

This can also use competitor products and the basis of the comparison must be clear. The ad should set out the relevant information or signpost how the information used to make that comparison can be checked by the target audience.

Here are some cases where substantiation has been deemed insufficient for absolute claims. “The greenest stoves on earth”, that a waste carrier network could “save CO2 emissions”, and offering 100% renewable energy to consumers “without harming your world”.

Guidance on Environmental Advertising - Any claims you make should be backed up by evidence
Any claims you make should be backed up by evidence

Guidance On Environmental Advertising - Watch Your Language

Although consumer understanding of environmental claims is increasing, marketers should be careful not to assume that the general public will be knowledgeable of specific terms.

Research done by the Advertising Standards Authority found that carbon neural and net zero were the most commonly encountered claims.

However, there needed to be more consensus on their meaning. There were calls for significant reform to simplify and standardise the definitions of such terms. Calls also want claims to be policed by an official body, such as the government.

Participants also tended to believe that carbon-neutral claims implied that an absolute reduction in carbon emissions had occurred. When claims relied on offsetting and this was revealed, this could result in consumers feeling that they had been misled.

Guidance on Environmental Advertising - Not all consumers understand environmental terms
Not all consumers understand environmental terms

Guidance On Environmental Advertising - Include Accurate Information

In light of this lack of consensus, the CAP advises advertisers to ensure that they include accurate information.

This should include whether and the degree to which they are actively reducing carbon emissions. 

Where claims are based on offsetting, marketers should provide information about the offsetting scheme they are using.

This ensures that consumers do not wrongly assume that products or their manufacturing 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.

Guidance on Environmental Advertising - You should include accurate information in any claims made
You should include accurate information in any claims made

Guidance On Environmental Advertising - Don’t Ignore The Harm

All advertisers have a social responsibility to their audience and society at large to not promote reckless or harmful behaviour. National and international legislation on climate change and consumer behaviour surrounding is changing. It’s now important to consider how this could apply to environmental actions.

Due to the increased focus on the role of consumer behaviour change in achieving net zero targets, the Advertising Standards Authority highlighted recent complaints that could become more problematic in the future. This included trivialising consumer behaviour likely to result in harmful pollution. Or excessive waste, encouraging or condoning non-recycling of recyclable packaging, and encouraging or condoning consumers to disregard the harmful environmental impact of their actions.

Guidance on Environmental Advertising - Honesty is the best policy when it comes to advertising
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to advertising

Guidance On Environmental Advertising - Conclusion

In conclusion, businesses have a crucial role in addressing environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.

Therefore it’s essential for businesses to understand and adhere to the Committee of Advertising Practice’s guidance on environmental advertising.

This includes making clear and substantiated claims, avoiding misleading language, and being socially responsible in their advertising practices.

By doing so, businesses can help consumers make informed choices and drive positive change towards a sustainable future.

Guidance on Environmental Advertising - Being honest with environmental claims helps consumers make better decisions
Being honest with environmental claims helps consumers make better decisions

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Play It Green can support your business both on its journey of sustainability and its marketing.

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