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A short guide to green claims in marketing and advertising

Gone are the days when a company could put green claims like “100% eco-friendly” in their marketing and advertising copy. Governments are beginning to crack down on these claims, hard. This isn’t a bad thing – it means that everyone is going to have to either back up those claims or remove them from their marketing entirely.

In short? Governments around the world are finally looking to reduce and eliminate greenwashing. Great news for the planet!

This blog will touch upon some of the different laws for various countries and will give you some foundational knowledge about green claims so that you can begin to recognise them and analyse them for legitimacy. Both within your business and when you’re about to buy a product that seems ‘eco-friendly.’ 

What is a green claim?

Wherever you are in the world, the definition of a green claim remains the same.

A green claim shows how a product, service, brand, or business is less harmful to the environment; or how it can even benefit it. Don’t think you’re exempt from using green claims if you’re not a ‘sustainable business’ either. These claims are used by any business in any industry that is marketing itself as ‘green’ to reach conscious consumers. 

Why do these claims matter?

Thanks to the rise in media coverage about climate change and a growing awareness of the situation, the number of consumers looking to put their money towards brands with a small environmental impact is increasing. 

Consumers across all generations state that they would be happy to pay more for sustainable products than they would have done two years ago.

This positive trend towards more conscious purchasing choices has forced businesses to think quickly and move with the times – but not all are doing this in a good way. Instead of directing their energy towards making their product/service a little kinder to the planet, some businesses are ramping up their marketing to make them seem greener.

When in fact, they’re anything but!

The EU environment commission reports that 53% of green claims are misleading or give vague information and that 40% of claims have no supporting evidence. It’s also not always necessarily what the companies are saying; it’s their lack of information and transparency that can be the problem.  

This is why legislation on green claims is so needed. Not only does it stop companies from lying to their consumers (a tactic we, of course, do not recommend within the Academy), but it also empowers people to make purchasing decisions that are aligned with their values.

This is part of the wider issue of greenwashing and only sits to benefit the companies, certainly not the consumers or the planet.

Green claims in the US

The Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides are nothing new! They were actually launched back in 1992 after the green movement gained more recognition and power (this blog has much more on the history of environmental justice), and were revised most recently in 2012. 

These guides are designed to help marketers avoid making environmental claims that mislead consumers and include guidance on things such as claims about materials, carbon offset claims, and how consumers are likely to interpret particular claims.

There’s already a significant ongoing case against Exxon, Shell, BP, and the American Petroleum Institute that’s pending a court ruling. The New York City Council argues that the companies are misleading the public by showing their fuels as ‘cleaner’ at branded petrol stations.

Green claims in the UK

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) first released its Green Claims Code in September 2021 as a simple 13-point checklist for businesses to check their environmental claims against. It’s designed to be a clear and easy-to-use checklist so that companies aren’t at risk of greenwashing. The Adverting Standards Authority state that if a green claim can’t be applied across a product’s entire lifecycle, from manufacture to disposal, a claim needs to be qualified.

At a time when fossil fuel companies are spending $9.5m on Facebook advertising that highlights their investments in renewable energy, stricter rules could not be more welcome and more necessary for the future of our planet.

Ads banned for breaking the Code

Since its release, the Advertising Standards Authority have stuck to their word and banned numerous ads, citing a break of the rules outlined in the Code.

An ad by airline Ryanair was banned for stating that they were a ‘low emissions airline.’ They didn’t provide any evidence to back up the claim. More earth-focused brands aren’t exempt either. Plant milk brand Oatly had an ad banned for claiming that their milk had lower emissions than dairy, when in fact they were only comparing their milk with one kind of diary product.

Some of the generic claims that are no longer allowed to be used if they’re not backed up with strong data are:

  • Good for the planet
  • 100% eco-friendly
  • Good for the land
  • Environmentally friendly

Did any of those surprise you? They’re common phrases used by many businesses in their marketing and have been for a long time. Here’s your sign to triple-check all your marketing claims as it’s likely you may have used one of those claims at least once!

No matter the size of your business, we all have a part to play in communicating clearly and honestly. Take a look at the full Code checklist here and have it handy next time you’re planning on releasing an eco-focused ad.

Europe/the EU

a hand holding a plastic lid reading completely compostable with a beach in the background
Credit: Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

The EU Commission has released new criteria to stop companies from making misleading green claims. There’s already a lack of understanding about the various different green labels, and many aren’t regulated or trustworthy.

In March 2023, the Commission adopted a proposal for a Directive on Green Claims, to ensure consumers receive reliable, comparable, and verifiable environmental information on products.

The marketing climate is changing

With the introduction of new rules and regulations, the marketing climate is changing for the better.

As long as companies are giving up-to-date and credible evidence to show that the green claim is true, and that claim isn’t an exaggeration or deliberately concealing information, then they’ll be less at risk of breaking any laws.

As always, honesty is the best policy!

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