Advertising Standards Agency Issues New Guidance on Misleading Environmental Claims in Advertising
Thursday 2nd March 2023
Updated guidance on the use of “carbon neutral” and “net zero” claims in advertising was issued earlier this month by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), the UK’s advertising regulator.
The guidance has been produced in response to the ASA’s Climate Change and Environment project which found that there is little understanding around the meaning of claims like “carbon neutral” and “net zero” but they are being increasingly used in advertising. This means there is a greater potential for consumers to be misled by the claims and so the ASA is prioritising improving consumer understanding of these terms. Advertisers should take into account the guidance which the ASA hopes will result in ads that are less likely to mislead consumers.
What updates have been made to the guidance?
- “Carbon neutral” and “net zero”
Advertisers should avoid using claims such as “carbon neutral” and “net zero” without any qualification. Although these terms are frequently used, the ASA found that they are the most likely to mislead consumers. Advertisements should include information explaining the basis for the claims to help consumers understand them, and such information should therefore not be omitted. Simply using these terms is no longer enough – supporting information is imperative to improve consumer understanding.
- Be transparent about offsetting claims
The ASA found that consumers tended to perceive carbon neutral statements to mean that there has been or will be a complete reduction in carbon emissions, leading to consumers feeling misled if such claims relied on offsetting. Carbon offsetting initiatives are attempts to balance emissions by alternative measures that reduce carbon in the atmosphere by an equivalent amount rather than lowering the carbon emitted. To prevent consumers from mistakenly assuming that products, or their manufacture, generate zero or little emissions, advertisers should take care to give accurate information about whether, and the extent to which, they are actively lowering carbon emissions or are basing claims on offsetting.
Any claims that are based on offsetting should also comply with the usual standards of evidence for objective claims set out in the ASA’s guidance and advertisers should be able to provide information about the offsetting scheme that they are using.
- Qualifying information needs to be prominent
Where advertisers need to include qualifying information about a claim, they should ensure the information is sufficiently close to the main points of the claim so consumers can easily see it and assess it before they make their decision. If the qualifying information is not prominent and distanced from the main claim being made, it is likely that the claim will mislead consumers.
What should organisations be doing following this new guidance?
Organisations should now take steps to implement the new guidance, ensuring that any environmental claims are qualified and do not mislead consumers. Over the next six months, the ASA will be monitoring the use of these claims and will be assessing how organisations substantiate them. Since they are likely to already breach existing rules, there will also be a crackdown on organisations making any “carbon neutral” and “net zero” claims which are entirely unqualified.