Some brands and organisations are making carbon neutral and net zero claims that are “entirely unqualified” and do not explain how they will be achieved, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has said.
It comes as part of new published guidance on how environmental claims can be used in advertising amid a wider clampdown on greenwash.
Greenwash is the term for when brands or businesses make misleading eco claims about what they are doing for the purpose of appearing ‘green’ and without providing evidence.
‘Carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’ have been identified as priority terms of research for where consumers are being misled, with new guidance stating that any claims must be followed with qualifying information about how it has been achieved.
‘Net zero’ refers to a balance achieved when the amount of greenhouse gases we emit is equalled by the amount we remove. This is typically done by first reducing emissions, and then offsetting the remainder. This can also be referred to as ‘carbon neutral’.
Participants in the research wanted significant reform to simplify the definitions of such terms and for claims to be policed.
People tended to believe that carbon neutral claims implied that an absolute reduction in carbon emissions had taken place or would take place. When the potential role of offsetting in claims was revealed, this could result in consumers feeling that they had been misled.
The issue with carbon offsets has made headlines again recently after a Guardian investigation found that 90 per cent of rainforest carbon credits are “worthless”, sparking scrutiny about the validity of what is a rapidly expanding sector.
People felt that claims in air travel, energy and car advertising were most noticeable, and where the potential role of offsetting, when revealed, could result in greater disappointment. Fashion brands Asos and Boohoo faced action last year for green claims, while drinks brands Alpro, Oatly and Innocent have also faced scrutiny.
Under new guidance, brands and businesses must now ensure a range of new things, including:
- Claims based on future goals around net zero or carbon neutrality should only be used if information about how they will be achieved is also provided.
- Where claims are based on offsetting, marketers should provide information about the offsetting scheme they are using.
Earlier this year, the government’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it is looking at how vague or broad eco statements like ‘sustainable’ or ‘better for the environment’ are being used with no evidence in popular household items including food and cleaning.
They are also looking into misleading claims about recycled or natural materials.
“As more people than ever try to do their bit to help protect the environment, we’re concerned many shoppers are being misled and potentially even paying a premium for products that aren’t what they seem, especially at a time when the cost of living continues to rise,” said chief executive of the CMA, Sarah Cardell.
“Our work to date has shown there could be greenwashing going on in this sector, and we’ll be scrutinising companies big and small to see whether their environmental claims stack up. Now is a good time for businesses to review their practices and make sure they’re operating within the law.”
A green flag?
Have you noticed a dubious eco claim in food, or other consumer item? Let us know in the comments, on social media @wickedleeksmag or email firstname.lastname@example.org.