Watchdog to launch crackdown on ads falsely claiming green credentials

Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Airline ads that encourage taking too many flights and carmakers that show SUVs tearing up the countryside are set to fall foul of a crackdown on marketing that encourages environmentally irresponsible behaviour.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is to launch a series of inquiries into the environmental advertising claims and practices across a range of sectors – starting with energy, heating and transport – in a drive to support global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and battle the climate crisis.

Next spring the the watchdog will expand its investigation to look at the accuracy of green claims made by companies around waste, such as products being biodegradable, recyclable or a “plastic alternative”. Later next year the spotlight will turn to meat and food sustainability advertising, for example checking the accuracy of claims around environmental good practice by sellers of beef products, a hugely carbon intensive industry.

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“The ASA is going to be shining a greater regulatory spotlight in the coming years on social responsibility and misleadingness issues when it comes to environmental claims in ads,” says Miles Lockwood, director of complaints and investigations at the ASA.

“We know that there needs to be systemic, wide scale change in order for the UK to meet the government’s climate targets. We know how concerned people are about ads inaccurately promoting green credentials. We believe that our work will continue to positively influence the fight against climate change.”

It will also commission research into what the public understands by terms such as “carbon neutral” and “net zero” in order to inform its policing of claims. It will examine the messaging around the meaning of “hybrid” in the burgeoning electric vehicle market.

“We have concerns about how companies might be using ‘green’ terms,” said Lockwood. “Carbon neutral in particular is emerging as a popular term, with lots of companies burnishing their green credentials by claiming their services add no carbon overall to the atmosphere.

“We want to better understand how companies are using terms like this across industries and how consumers understand these terms, so that our rules and guidance are in step with prevailing academic, scientific evidence and environmental standards so we’re best placed to tackle misleading and socially irresponsible green claims across media.”

The watchdog has clamped down on several major companies in recent years over their green claims in adverts, including Ryanair – which got caught using outdated information to claim it was the UK’s lowest emission airline – BMW and Shell.

The ASA is currently investigating complaints about a Land Rover Defender advert that shows one of the vehicles driving through a forest accompanied by the slogan “life is so much better without restrictions”. The complaints claim the advert encourages an irresponsible approach to nature and fails to mention the climate impact of SUVs.

Later this year, the ASA’s sister body the Committee of Advertising Practice – which sets the UK advertising code across all forms of media, from TV and newspapers to billboards and online – will issue new guidance to advertisers regarding misleading and socially irresponsible environmental claims and advertising.

On Monday, the Competition and Markets Authority said it would launch its own review of misleading green claims next year.

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