All advertising is subject to the CAP Codes and ASA jurisdiction, as well as the law. Environmental claims have long been the subject of CAP’s attention, with a dedicated section of rules and numerous advice notes and updated guidance.
Individual rules cover the need for clarity, substantiation and evidence, recycling claims, the basis for any ‘greener’ comparisons and the question of products’ full lifecycles. Specific advice exists for utilities and energy companies, and for car marketers – especially regarding claims for electric or hybrid models. All this to preclude ‘greenwashing’ and unfair or misleading claims.
But the ASA has now committed to a broader review of its responsibilities in this context. “In the light of growing concerns around climate change and the human impact on the environment”, it states, “we will explore the role that advertising regulation can play in responding to that challenge”, as well as reducing its own carbon footprint.
What does this mean? That it is exploring how far its use of proactive, tech-assisted regulation, its advice and training work, and its review of standards as outside legislative and regulatory initiatives develop, can enhance its effectiveness.
Because, of course, the ASA is not alone in this. The Competition & Markets Authority has homed in on the issue, declaring it “essential that we act in a way which supports the transition to a low carbon economy”, in light of the UK “working to become climate-neutral by 2050”. Specifically, in their consumer protection role, the CMA has undertaken to “improve our understanding of ‘green’ claims made by sellers to consumers and, where appropriate, we will make use of our powers to correct false or misleading statements to that effect”. (footnote reference to CMA’s Annual Plan 2020-2021)
Similarly, The European Commission is embarking on a consultation on environmental claims and helping consumers make more confidently sustainable choices.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament’s Committee on the Internal Market & Consumer Protection has advocated new restrictions on advertising, stronger penalties for misleading green claims and a tax on advertising to offset its negative effects.
Against this background of heightened concern and activity, developing the UK’s advertising codes seems a natural element of the move to a more environmentally responsible advertising market.