Advertising the environmental benefits and attributes of consumer products has become an increasing trend in recent years as companies learn that consumers value “green” goods and services. To address compliance issues encountered in making these types of marketing claims, regulators are formulating guidance for businesses. While the U.S. is in the process of revising its environmental marketing Green Guides, the U.K. has published its new Green Claims Guidance. Both the U.S. and U.K. have addressed similar issues in their respective guidance documents.
The U.K.’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (“Defra”) published the revised Green Claims Guidance on February 2, 2011, updating previous guidance published in 2003. The Green Claims Guidance is directed at anyone who produces, sells, markets, or advertizes products or services in the U.K.
In general, environmental claims made in the U.K. must be credible and reflect a genuine environmental benefit. Defra organized its Green Claims Guidance according to its three main objectives in developing the guidance:
Clarity and Accuracy
- Defra focuses on the overall impression of environmental marketing claims. The Green Claims Guidance advises marketers to use plain language in describing environmental benefits. It also warns against creating new terms, which may cause confusion with consumers, and to be careful with emerging terms used to convey green claims.
- Defra warns marketers against making sustainability claims, as sustainability is a highly complex concept and there is no method available to measure those claims.
- Defra encourages the use of explanatory text in order to make the green claims clearer but also cautions against using too much explanatory text since consumers are unlikely to read it.
- The Green Claims Guidance stresses that marketers should focus on the most significant environmental impacts in making these types of claims.
- Only additional benefits are relevant and may be advertised – marketers should not make claims based on pre-existing benefits or where all products share the same attribute.
- Environmental benefits that are marketed must be above and beyond just compliance with the law.
- Environmental marketing claims must be supported by substantiation, based on robust and scientifically accepted evidence.
- Defra encourages the use of third party independent testing bodies to bolster substantiation.
- Firms may market aspirational environmental benefits, but the Green Claims Guidance requires marketers to have a firm factual basis for those claims, including details about intended actions, means of monitoring progress, and the achievability of those goals.
The Green Claims Guidance applies to environmental marketing claims made through symbols and images in addition to text, and Defra stresses that it is important for marketers to understand how consumers perceive those images. It specifically warns marketers against implying endorsement of a product by a third party through the use of symbols or images.
As with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) revised Green Guides, Defra’s Green Claims Guidance only advises marketers in making environmental claims but compliance with the guidance does not guarantee that there will be no action taken by the U.K. Office of Fair Trading. Marketers in the U.K. are bound by the general requirements of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations of 2008, which require that all advertisements be fair and not misleading. For a summary of Defra’s revised Green Claims Guidance, please click here.