With a global push towards sustainable practices, many more consumers are looking to buy their products from environmentally friendly sources. This movement has caught the eye of the regulators, who will act against brands making misleading environmental claims in their advertising.
Environmental claims in advertising are regulated by both the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) which is a governmental body, and the independent Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). In this article we look at their rules and explore the key do’s and don’ts about making environmental claims in advertising your food and drink products.
The CMA’s investigation into misleading environmental claims
In September 2021 the CMA published its Green Claims Code – guidance for businesses to help them comply with the existing regulations under consumer law when making green claims about their products.
The guidance includes a list of 13 statements, to which businesses must be able to answer “Yes” before they can make a green claim. The full list is available here and we explore some of these below.
The CMA has warned it intends to carry out a full review of misleading green claims this year and is ready to take action against offending firms. Fast fashion was first on their list but is being closely followed by food and drinks, beauty products and cleaning products.
The ASA’s statement on environmental claims
The ASA’s broadcast and non-broadcast advertising codes (BCAP and CAP) includes rules on misleading claims, including:
- Rule 3.1: Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so (Misleading Advertising).
- Rule 3.7: Marketers must hold evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation (Substantiation).
- Rule 3.10: Qualifications must be presented clearly (e.g. when using an asterisk to provide additional information) (Qualification).
- Rule 11: The basis of environmental claims must be clear (Environmental claims).
In the same month as the CMA published its Green Claims Code, the ASA announced it would start a series of enquiries into specific issues, including ‘recyclable’, ‘biodegradable’, ’compostable’ and ‘plastic alternative’ claims.
The joint effort between the CMA and ASA quickly led to several findings against brands who did not ensure their claims were sufficiently transparent.
One claim made by Pepsi Co Ltd in respect of its Lipton Iced Tea product is discussed in more detail below.
- Check the CMA guidance statements. If you’re not able to answer “Yes” to any of the statements, your claim may be in breach of consumer law.
- Don’t stretch the truth. Claims can be misleading if any information is untrue or hidden or missing, or if information is misrepresented or if it is taken out of context.
- Substantiate your claims. Make sure you can substantiate any claims you make with robust evidence. The more specific the claim, the more specific the evidence must be to back it up.
- What are the consequences of non-compliance? If you are found to be non-compliant with consumer law, the CMA and other bodies – such as Trading Standards Services – may bring court proceedings. The ASA can also take action for misleading green claims which appear in advertising, and you could be required to make changes to your claim or make a payment of redress to any consumers that may have been harmed by the breach.
CASE STUDY: PEPSI CO LTD
The Claim: “DELICIOUSLY REFRESHING, 100% RECYCLED”
A poster for Lipton Iced Tea featured headline text which stated: “DELICIOUSLY REFRESHING, 100% RECYCLED*”.
The asterisk linked to small text at the bottom of the poster that stated: “Bottle made from recycled plastic, excludes cap and label”.
The Complaint: The complainant challenged whether the claim “100% RECYCLED” misleadingly implied that all of the Lipton bottle was made from 100% recycled plastic.
The Verdict: The ASA agreed consumers would understand the claim to mean that all components of the bottle were made entirely from recycled materials and that the qualification wording was not sufficiently prominent to be seen by consumers. The overall impression of the ad was misleading and breached Rule 3.1 (Misleading Advertising) and Rule 11.3 (Substantiation for Environmental Claims) of the CAP Code.
Whilst the ASA ruling did not refer to the CMA’s green code in the Lipton ruling, our impression is that the claim did not meet following checklist requirements:
- The claim is accurate and clear for all to understand.
- The claim clearly tells the whole story of a product or service; or relates to one part of the product or service without misleading people about the other parts or the overall impact on the environment.
- If conditions (or caveats) apply to the claim, they’re clearly set out and can be understood by all.
- The claim doesn’t exaggerate its positive environmental impact or contain anything untrue – whether clearly stated or implied.
For advice about whether your marketing communications comply with advertising regulations, talk to our Consumer team.