UK Advertising regulators release stricter guidance on green claims

What is the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD)
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UK Advertising regulators have released new, stricter guidance on environmental claims in both broadcasting and non-broadcasting advertising.

What do brands and marketing teams need to know?

Whole business context is key

Where businesses are responsible for significant emissions or other environmental harm, adverts referencing environmentally beneficial initiatives must include balancing information about the business’s significant ongoing contribution to emissions or other harm.

Action, not aspiration

Absolute environmental claims (such as “sustainable” or “environmentally friendly”) must be supported by a high level of substantiation. Evidence of initiatives which are intended to deliver results in the future are unlikely to be accepted.

Net Zero, carbon neutral and offsetting must be clarified

Ads which focus on specific initiatives as a way of achieving net zero must contextualise those claims with information about the role the initiative would play in that net zero plan, and how and when net zero emissions will be achieved.

Net zero and carbon neutral claims cannot be unsubstantiated. Marketers must include accurate information about the degree to which they are actively reducing emissions, and how much of the claim is based on offsetting.

Claims based on future goals relating to reaching net zero or achieving carbon neutrality should be based on a verifiable strategy to deliver them.

And where claims are based on offsetting, marketers must provide information about the scheme they are using.

Full lifecycle cannot be ignored

Marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle.

Absolute claims like “environmentally friendly” must only be made if the advertiser can demonstrate that the product or service has no detrimental effect on the environment, taking into account its entire lifecycle.

Claims cannot be left open to interpretation

Marketers must consider consumers’ likely interpretation of a claim. Where there may be multiple possible interpretations, additional information must be provided to make the meaning clear.

Information required for substantiating a claim should be sufficiently close to the main aspects of the claim for consumers to be able to see it easily and take account of it before they make any decision.

You can’t assume everyone knows what you’re talking about!

Marketers must consider consumers’ likely interpretation of a claim and should take into consideration how knowledgeable the audience is likely to be. They should not assume a high level of understanding, especially if ads are untargeted.

Ads must make clear if any advertised environmental benefit will only result from specific consumer action or behavioural change.
Claims that a product can be recycled must be substantiated, and must make clear any limitations to this.

This new guidance builds on the Green Claims Code – guidance from the Competition Markets Authority designed to help brands and advertisers understand their obligations under existing trading standards legislation when talking about their environmental credentials.

It comes as the EU seeks to end greenwashing by banning generic environmental claims, banning carbon offsetting claims and paving the way for a new Green Claims Directive.

Financial regulators and other bodies are also implementing new reporting frameworks, and for large public-interest companies in the EU, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive came into force in January 2023, with first reports due in 2025.

For businesses of all sizes, measuring and reporting your sustainability impact should be a priority, to prepare for a future of more regulation. All organisations should now be auditing their existing green claims to ensure compliance, and up-skilling their communications teams to understand and implement the new regulations.

181st Street have an expert team of regulatory affairs specialists, analysts, sustainability experts and communications leaders who can help audit your claims, assess your regulatory risks, produce a regulatory roadmap to help you prepare for future legislation, and bring your communications in line. Please contact us to discuss your requirements –

Download your free Green Claims Code guide here.

This article has been prepared for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.