Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)

Where: United Kingdom

When: 6 June 2022

Law stated as at: 6 July 2022

What happened:

The United Nation’s annual World Environment Day was observed on 5 June this year. The day has been designated as a way to raise awareness of the global climate crisis and urge governments, regulatory bodies and institutions to help take action on urgent environmental issues.

To coincide with World Environment Day, the ASA provided an update on the work it has undertaken in its Climate Change and the Environment project since it released a statement on the regulation of environmental claims and issues in advertising in September 2021. The statement outlined three major outputs, one of which was the ASA conducting research into consumer understanding of claims made by advertisers using terms such as ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’.

The ASA has publicly announced that it intends to keep cracking down on misleading and socially irresponsible ads and accepts that environmental claims in ads can be very complex to construct. The regulatory body has provided training material and advertising guidance – including an e-learning module – to help ensure that advertisers who make claims do not inadvertently fall foul of the advertising regulations.

Since September 2021, the ASA has carried out reviews of environmental claims in the heating, energy and transport sectors and has identified a number of issues in ads for products and services in these areas, including:

• Claims from advertisers about intentions to achieve “net zero” by a particular date;

• Descriptions of energy tariffs as “green” or “renewable”, and the associated evidence for these claims;

• Ads in the air travel sector, with particular interest in “carbon neutral” or similar claims; and

• Targeted advice to identified brands to help them comply with the Advertising Codes on environmental claims.

The research into the public’s understanding of terms like “carbon neutral” and “net zero” is almost finished and the ASA plans to publish the outcomes in summer 2022.

Why this matters:

The ASA has found that complaints from the public on ads involving environmental claims have increased in recent months and this trend is expected to continue. The ASA’s close working relationship with the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) will continue and both regulators will ensure that they stay aligned on how they regulate misleading environmental claims. The regulator will shortly begin research into waste claims such as ‘biodegradable’ and also a review into claims regarding meat, dairy and plant-based substitutes.

The ASA recognises that advertising regulation plays a major part in meeting the UK’s net zero targets. This timely update from the ASA sends a clear message that there will be a stronger regulatory focus on advertising issues involving climate change and the environment. The ASA will provide further updates as its work continues and businesses in the affected sectors are advised to continue to watch this space.