The Advertising Standards Authority found that consumers have a low overall understanding of environmental claims used by advertisers.
19 October 2022
The advertising regulator is to crack down on “hot air” environmental claims amid consumer confusion around terms such as “carbon neutral” and “net zero”.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the public remained wary of “green washing” by companies and signalled it would consider increased enforcement action to ensure consumers are not misled by brands attempting to boost their environmental credentials.
A study by the ASA found broad consumer engagement on environmental issues which influenced their understanding of related advertising claims.
However it found that consumers have a low overall understanding of environmental claims used by advertisers, and can tend to cynicism around brands trying to promote their environmental achievements.
Offsetting claims such as “carbon neutral” and “net zero” are currently the primary source of confusion and misunderstanding.
The ASA indicated that simplifying and standardising these definitions, alongside electric and hybrid vehicle claims, was key to providing clarity and policing of their usage by independent bodies.
The watchdog said advertising could play an important role in helping consumers make informed choices, and it was important that the environmental claims they see and hear were truthful, responsible and treated them fairly.
There are currently no official definitions for terms such as “carbon neutral” or “net zero” and no fixed rules for how businesses should achieve these goals.
The ASA said there was concern that some methods of achieving carbon neutrality or net zero were “not as robust as they could be”.
It is to update its guidance on such claims before the end of the year before carrying out a six-month monitoring period.
It has also pledged to take proactive action immediately to crack down on unqualified claims that are likely to breach existing rules.
The findings come a day after the ASA banned two posters for HSBC advertising the bank’s green initiatives but omitting information about the bank’s own contribution to carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions.
The ASA’s director of complaints and investigations, Miles Lockwood, said: “Our research shows that there is consumer confusion about the meanings and the evidence behind carbon neutral, net zero and ad claims for hybrid and electric vehicles. It also suggests there is a need for them to be simplified and standardised.
“All of which signals that while the UK public buy in to companies doing the right thing on the environment, they remain wary of ‘greenwashing’.
“We’ll act on these findings: updating guidance; sharing with Government and partners; reviewing the evidence and taking enforcement action where necessary; to ensure environmental claims aren’t just hot air.”