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World Federation of Advertisers issues landmark ‘greenwashing’ guidance to brands

By Jennifer Faull | Deputy Editor

April 4, 2022 | 5 min read

Last year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced a crackdown on ‘greenwashing ads’. Since then there has been a spike in brands falling foul of the new rules. The World Federation of Advertisers has now issued landmark guidance on how brands can make sure environmental claims featured in their marketing communications are credible for both consumers and regulators.

It’s the first time that global guidance has been issued on this increasingly challenging issue. The WFA worked with the International Council for Advertising Self-Regulation (ICAS), the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) and the UK’s ASA. It also went through a peer review process with advertising standards bodies from around the world, including Australia, Brazil, France, India, Spain, Sweden and the US.

climate action

WFA has issued global guidance on how to avoid greenwashing

Testament to its importance, 27 brands – representing $50bn a year in ad spend – have already signed up to the follow the global guidance.

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“Current consumer skepticism in environmental claims and marketers’ fears of greenwashing are together the biggest obstacles to our industry being part of the solution to the climate crisis,” said WFA chief Stephan Loerke.

“Big reductions in CO2 emissions have occurred on the back of technology and innovation; the next big advance needs to be driven by behavioral change. This is where marketers can help. This guidance is an essential first step to creating an environment where marketers and consumers can feel more confident about companies’ sustainability credentials.”

The guidance identified six key rules that should, in theory, help brands avoid being accused of greenwashing. These are:

  1. Claims must not be likely to mislead and the basis for them must be clear

  2. Marketers must hold robust evidence for all claims likely to be regarded as objective and capable of substantiation

  3. Marketing communications must not omit material information and, where time or space is limited, marketers must use alternative means to make qualifying information readily accessible to the audience and indicate where it can be accessed

  4. Marketers must base general environmental claims on the full lifecycle of their product or business, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the lifecycle

  5. Products compared in marketing communications must meet the same needs or be intended for the same purpose and the basis for comparisons must be clear and allow the audience to make an informed decision about the products compared

  6. Marketers must include all information relating to the environmental impact of advertised products that is required by law, regulators or codes to which they are signatories

Brands still want better guidance

The guidance was published alongside new WFA research that identified the seriousness with which brands are now taking greenwashing claims. The survey of signatories to the WFA’s Planet Pledge initiative found that 64% now have ethical standards in place to ensure green claims are credible, while every single respondent is now checking green claims in marketing with their sustainability team who have to sign off any claims, in addition to ensuring legal sign off. 80% also run such claims past public affairs practitioners.

72% of respondents would welcome greater regulation of environmental claims. Only one company responded it would be resistant to regulation in this space.

Analysis of recent ASA rulings found there had been a sharp rise in the number of adverts ruled greenwashing, both in recent months and compared to the year before, with 16 advertising campaigns exaggerating brands’ green credentials or making claims that could not be substantiated.

Ryanair, Alpro and Oatly were among the most complained about brands for their green marketing efforts.

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