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The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) in conjunction with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has released an amended set of guidelines to combat ‘greenwashing’, protecting consumers from deceitful green assurances.

What exactly are green assurances?

Our prior write-up titled “Are your green assurances up to standard?” covers a discussion on green assurances and guidance from CAP and CMA.

What do the revised guidelines by CAP suggest?

The guidelines lay out factors that can influence the likelihood of green assurances adhering to the UK Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing Code (CAP Code) and the UK Broadcast Advertising Code (BCAP Code), collectively referred to as Advertising Codes. The guidelines build upon the principles underlined in recent CAP rulings and the principles detailed in CMA’s guidance titled “Asserting environmental claims on products and services” (Green Claims Code).

The updated section 3.1, titled “Assurances about efforts to minimise environmental impact”, incorporates additional advice for marketers drafting green assurances.

Some pivotal revisions are as follows:

  • Marketers need to contemplate how the audience will interpret an assurance and gauge the audience’s likely level of understanding.
  • Certain factors that might shape a consumer’s understanding of an assurance should be incorporated in the advertising.
  • It should be clarified if the advertised environmental advantage relies on specific consumer conduct or behaviour modification.
  • If an advertisement signifies adherence to a specific standard, it should equip consumers with ample information to comprehend the standard’s meaning.
  • Assertions that a product is recyclable should be verified and should denote any restrictions.
  • Assurances specific to certain products should clearly state their limited scope to avoid being mistaken as reflective of the whole business.
  • If a business contributes significantly to harmful emissions or environmental detriment, marketers should balance this with information about the business’s considerable ongoing contribution to emissions or environmental damage, particularly in sectors where consumers may not be cognizant of the business’s overall contribution.
  • Caution should be taken with imagery depicting nature as it could, depending on context, imply the business is substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Absolute green assurances (like ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco-friendly’) must be supported by robust evidence.
  • Advertisements presenting a business’s negative environmental impact as a past occurrence are likely to mislead if the business is still significantly harming the environment. Presenting past negative impact implies the business has moved beyond such activities.
  • Advertisements emphasising specific initiatives to achieve net zero should clearly outline these assertions with information about the initiative’s role in the net zero strategy, including how and when net zero emissions will be attained.
  • When asserting initiatives aimed at achieving net zero, the timeline to reach this goal is considered critical information and should be included in the advertisement.

Why the updated guidelines?

CAP and CMA are pursuing comprehensive programmes to enhance adherence to the Advertising Codes and the Green Claims Code. CAP states the reason being “the stakes are high” due to the UK government’s ambitious, legally binding net zero targets. Consumer behavioural changes in sectors with high carbon emissions will be critical in meeting these goals.

This somewhat elucidates the recent increase in CAP rulings on green assurances, particularly those targeting high carbon emitting sectors like oil, gas, aviation, and the fast-paced consumer goods sector.

CAP’s stance is that businesses have a narrow window of opportunity to show that advertising can be part of the solution before legislative interventions in advertising may occur.

CAP, in collaboration with CMA, reaffirms its intention to maintain a robust but balanced approach in the forthcoming months and years.

How should brands react to the updated guidelines?

Brands wishing to put forth green assurances should confirm that they are not misleading and provide adequate information about the assurance to consumers. Moreover, any required evidence should be obtained before making the assurance.