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Tackling greenwashing in UK advertising

Greenwashing is the act of making false claims or providing misleading information about the environmental benefits of a product or practice.

With the UK’s net zero target set for 2050, and increased action to tackle the climate crisis, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have been taking a firm approach to tackling misleading green claims.

Measures the ASA and CMA are taking

Consumers may feel encouraged to purchase a certain brand or product based on environmentally friendly advertising and green claims. Those claims must however be supported by evidence demonstrating no harm to the planet from manufacture to disposal.

Should the ASA find that a company’s advertising is misleading, promoting green credentials which contradict their actual business model, the ASA can ban the use of the advertising. Companies should be warned that further penalties can be imposed by the CMA, including penalties of up to 10% of global turnover, and individual fines of up to £300,000.

Fashion brands such as ASOS (Responsible Edit), Boohoo (Ready for the Future) and George (George for Good) marketed specific ranges as eco-friendly, but those ranges were not supported by adequate information. The CMA did not take legal action against those companies, as they have made commitments around green claims, such that they will:

  • Ensure all green claims are accurate, expressed in plain language and clearly visible
  • Ensure claims such as ‘recycled’ or ‘organic’ are backed with specific information, including the percentage of recycled or organic fibres
  • Avoid using ‘natural’ imagery – such as green leaves, logos, or icons in a way that suggests a product is more environmentally friendly than it actually is
  • Ensure search filters do not show products that do not fit the search criteria, for example if a shopper has specified ‘recycled’

Net Zero Advertising

Ad Net Zero was launched by The Advertising Association in 2020, in a bid for advertising to be part of the solution to the climate crisis, and achieve net zero from the development, production and media placement of advertising by the end of 2030. Companies are also encouraged to promote more sustainable consumer choices and behaviours. As well as reducing their carbon emissions by reducing travel, fossil energy use and waste.

What can companies do to be compliant

Companies are warned greenwashing may result in consumers making choices that are harmful to the environment, negatively impacting the company’s reputation, and be at the risk from investigations and penalties from the ASA and CMA.

Companies may wish to take the following steps to avoid greenwashing:

  • Avoid vague or misleading language, such as ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco-friendly’
  • Ensure all green claims made are accurate, specific, and can be substantiated using objective evidence
  • Engage in the ASA e-learning on compliance
  • Educate your employees on signs of greenwashing and sustainable practices
  • Set targets for sustainability and track progress