The ad watchdog has vowed to redouble its efforts to clamp down on companies which big up their environmental records in advertisements, after admitting there is still widespread confusion around terms such as ‘net zero’ and ‘carbon neutral’.
The Advertising Standards Authority said it will increase enforcement action on so-called “greenwashing” to ensure consumers are not misled by brands attempting to bolster their reputation over sustainability.
As far back as September 2021, the Committee of Advertising Practice issued its first guidance to the ad industry that sets out the key principles brands need to follow to ensure ads do not mislead about the environment and are socially responsible when considering environmental issues.
But a recent study by the ASA has found that consumers have become even more cynical due to struggling to understand environmental claims, especially the likes of ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’. As it stands, there are currently no official definitions these terms and no fixed rules for how businesses should achieve these goals.
The watchdog insists clarifying and simplifying the definitions of these phrases – as well as providing explanation around electric and hybrid vehicle claims – will be key in providing clarity and also regulating brands. The ASA said new guidance on such claims will be available by the end of the year, prior to a six-month monitoring period.
The news comes a day after the regulator battered HSBC for failing to substantiate environmental claims, while in the summer Unilever was censured for misleading consumers over its environmental benefits in a major campaign for Persil which featured the strapline “kinder to our planet” (pictured).
ASA director of complaints and investigations Miles Lockwood said: “Our research shows that there is consumer confusion about the meanings and the evidence behind carbon neutral, net zero and ad claims for hybrid and electric vehicles. It also suggests there is a need for them to be simplified and standardised.
“All of which signals that while the UK public buy in to companies doing the right thing on the environment, they remain wary of ‘greenwashing’.
“We’ll act on these findings: updating guidance; sharing with Government and partners; reviewing the evidence and taking enforcement action where necessary; to ensure environmental claims aren’t just hot air.”
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