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Recent Cases of ASA Action Against Green Washing

Recent Cases of ASA Action Against Green Washing

‘Greenwashing’ is one of the biggest buzzwords across the food industry – but what guidance is currently in place, and is greenwashing regulated? Janet Dalzell, Senior Regulatory Advisor at Ashbury, shares her insight on the latest rulings against greenwashing, and what these recent cases mean for businesses keen to communicate their credentials…

greenwashing

What is ‘Greenwashing’?

Greenwashing is the result of brands intentionally using complex or jargon-heavy language to mislead consumers into believing they have greater sustainable credentials than they do in reducing their impact on the environment.

From using unaccredited logos on pack and exaggerating efforts, to simply not having enough evidence in place and acting on a complete picture – greenwashing can come in many forms.

There is legislation in place which trading standards can enforce in order to protect consumers and businesses from being misled in relation to green claims. However, a 2021 study, run by the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN), and jointly led by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), found that 40% of firms’ green claims could be misleading.

Last Autumn, the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) published guidance for the labelling and promotion of products, aimed at preventing greenwashing across the food industry – known as the Green Claims Code. Based on the 2008 Regulation on Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading, the principles of the code are that sustainability claims must be truthful, accurate, clear, unambiguous, consider the full life cycle of the product, substantiated, not omit or hide important relevant information, and that comparisons are fair and meaningful.

Both the CMA, and the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) who set out the rules on environmental claims here, have been enforcing the rules since the turn of the year with deep, broad, and in some cases retrospective, criticism of green claims (with some of its investigations including claims made in Summer 2021).

What Action Has Been Taken Against ‘Greenwashing’?

AN UPSET FOR OATLY

At the start of 2021, Oatly UK Ltd produced a series of TV and national press advertisements, and social media campaigns, comparing the environmental benefits of their product with dairy milk. The ASA received 109 complaints, including from campaign group ‘A Greener World’, which challenged whether the claims were misleading and could be substantiated.

Although it was found that Oatly had commissioned independent research into their claims (including a grower to grocer life-cycle analysis), the ASA upheld the claims and criticised the firm for not making clear that the claims only concerned its Oatly Barista edition, and compared it to whole milk rather than semi-skimmed or skimmed.

The company had also referred to a meta-analysis study, published in Nature, as evidence of its more general claims relating to the impact of the meat and dairy industry on the environment. The adverts compared the dairy and meat industry greenhouse gas emissions with those from the transport sector. Subsequently, the ASA found a discrepancy with the parts of the systems that were compared, and thought the results may have been different if a full lifecycle analysis had been considered.

The statement “more than 25% of the world’s greenhouse gases are generated by the food industry, and meat and dairy account for more than half of that” was deemed misleading for not defining this as including fish, shellfish and egg production. The ASA also considered that most consumers would understand meat and dairy to apply to red and poultry meat, and milk products only.

The company was also found to have dropped the word “probably” from a quote comparing the vegan diet to one containing animal products, which overstated the vegan case and was therefore misleading. In addition, basing a claim on the opinion of only one expert was inappropriate, despite the expert being well-respected.

RECYCLING CLAIMS DON’T MEET THE CODE

Two advertisements, one for Lipton’s Iced Tea and one for Aqua Pura, were both deemed to break the Code for claiming that their bottles were 100% recycled, when the caps and labels were made from brand new plastic.

While the Lipton’s Iced Tea product did include a statement to address this, the size of the text meant it could easily be overlooked, and the 100% recycled claim was, in any case, a direct contradiction.

The Aqua Pura cap was described as eco-friendly, which is an absolute claim. The ASA considered that insufficient evidence was provided that the cap was not harmful to the environment at any stage during its lifecycle, and so the claim could not be substantiated.

Conclusion

With each new ruling, we’re learning just how seriously the CMA and ASA are taking greenwashing, how they interpret the Green Claims Code, and the steps they are prepared to take to address it. Any sustainability claims must continue to be well considered, thoroughly evidenced, totally appropriate, and clearly defined.

To do this, any sustainability claims made – and any labelling used to communicate them – must be completely watertight. Get in touch with a member of the Ashbury team to find out how we can help to protect your brand, and your relationships with those that matter most to your business.

 

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Caitlin Stewart, Marketing Manager

My background in Food Science and Marketing means I have a unique combination of commercial creativity and technical food manufacturing experience. My ambition is to bring clarity to the complex world of compliance through the simple and eye-catching communication of Ashbury's services.

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