As many of us move to adopt more environmentally conscious and sustainable lifestyles, people have become increasingly concerned with the environmental and ethical impact of the products and services they consume. In response, businesses are focusing more and more on the environmental benefits of their brand when marketing products and services to consumers.
Whilst UK consumer protection law does not prevent brands from making environmental claims, it does regulate the nature of the claims which can be made, so to ensure consumers are not misled. This article explores the rules and regulations in force in the UK around environmental claims and outlines some practical considerations for businesses when making these types of claim.
An environmental claim (or “green claim”) is any claim which states or suggests that a product, service, brand or business is good or better for the environment, whether in general or in relation to a specific environmental aspect (e.g. air, soil or water quality).
Green claims can appear in advertisements (whether broadcast or non-broadcast advertisements), within marketing materials, packaging or branding (including within a business or trade name) and can be explicit or implied.
The UK advertising industry is primarily self-regulated, whereby those operating within it (i.e. advertisers, agencies and the media) are required to produce advertising that complies with certain codes. Two key bodies enable self-regulation within the industry: The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA). The CAP is responsible for writing advertising codes and the ASA is the independent advertising regulator which administers the advertising codes prepared by CAP.
The two main advertising codes prepared by the CAP are:
Each advertising code sets out a series of rules, to which all sales and marketing communications must adhere. When businesses create sales and marketing communications, they are responsible for ensuring the content of those communications and the administration of sales promotions comply with the rules set out in the CAP and BCAP codes.
Both the CAP Code and the BCAP Code include specific rules relating to environmental claims (being rule 11 of the CAP Code and rule 9 of the BCAP Code).
In administering the advertising codes, the ASA investigate and rule on any complaints of breaches of the codes, as well as conducting its own research and investigations. Should the ASA deem there to be a breach of either code, the party responsible may be subject to sanctions. These sanctions might include a public finding against the non-compliant business (which has potential to cause significant reputational damage) and/or a referral to Trading Standards, Ofcom or the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) (as applicable) which can issue court proceedings, impose fines and/or withdraw licences to broadcast.
The rules on environmental claims under the CAP and BCAP codes follow the central themes (adopted throughout both codes) of clarity, provision of appropriate information and ensuring consumers are not misled. However, importantly, they also introduce some additional requirements where claims state, suggest or imply a product, service, brand or business has environmental benefits. These specific requirements include:
To see rule 11 of the CAP Code and rule 9 of the BCAP Code in full, please visit www.asa.org.uk.
The Green Claims Code is a separate advertising code produced by the CMA, introduced in September 2021, which relates only to environmental claims. It is intended as guidance both to help businesses better understand the rules surrounding environmental claims when advertising their products and services, as well as to help consumers identify genuine environmental claims. Whilst it is distinct from the CAP and BCAP Code, both the CAP and BCAP Codes state that marketers should additionally take the Green Claims Code into account.
The Green Claims Code consists of six key principles:
The Code is not an exhaustive guide to making environmental claims and should always be considered alongside the CAP and BCAP Codes. To see the full text of the Green Claims Code, please visit Green claims code: making environmental claims – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
If your product, service, brand or business has genuine environmental benefits, it is important that you are able to reference those benefits when marketing your product. To avoid falling short of the rules surrounding green claims, our top tips for promoting compliance are: