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Sustainability Agency Leadership Greenwashing

Sink or swim: 5 ways to prepare for the ASA’s new greenwashing restrictions

By Ellie Malpas | Strategist

Media Bounty

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August 8, 2023 | 6 min read

UK ad regulator The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been tightening restrictions to squeeze out greenwashing. Media Bounty’s Ellie Malpas breaks down recent advice from the agency and ASA chief Guy Parker.

A stand of trees amid a sea of deforested destruction

As the ASA tightens greenwashing restrictions, what can advertisers do? / Matt Palmer via Unsplash

Legislation changes on the horizon with the UK’s digital markets, competition, and consumer bill and the EU’s green claims directive mean the stakes are getting higher for brands trying to communicate sustainability claims properly. Big companies could face penalties of up to 10% of global turnover, and individual fines of £30,000 (around $38,000) if they are found to mislead consumers.

At Media Bounty’s ‘Sink or Swim’ event last month, my colleagues Jake Dubbins and Harriet Kingaby sat down with Guy Parker, chief executive of the Advertising Standards Association, to discuss the changes and how brands can get prepared.

Here are 5 key actions that you can start implementing today.

1. Keep your finger on the pulse

These changes are happening fast, and it can be overwhelming to keep up with them (alongside your day job).

Parker recommends allocating a team to be responsible for following the latest updates, to help your organization stay informed. The ASA also has a range of resources to start you off, including e-learning modules on compliance and a newsletter for intel straight to your inbox.

2. Get some experts on side

How claims fit into wider organizational strategy is about to become an essential consideration under the new guidelines. Any statements made must be truthful, specific, accredited by the right third parties, and with methodology and data reviewed every 5 years.

For many organizations, this kind of rigorous sustainability planning is likely to be brand new, so we suggest bringing in trusted partners and consultancies at an early stage to get your house in order.

3. Embrace the creative opportunity

These changes present an opportunity for us to create better work that drives behavior change. As the ‘architects of desire’ this is something us creative folk should be excited by.

According to ACT Climate Labs and Media Bounty research ‘Beyond the Climate Bubble’, the 69% of people who are unsure of climate action (a group we call the ‘Persuadables’) are turned off by the language typically used in sustainability marketing. By moving beyond vague terms like ‘net zero’ and leafy green visual cliches, we have an opportunity to create content that stands out and is understood by audiences. You can even apply to partner up with Climate Labs on your next campaign to create sustainability content that engages.

4. Don’t stay silent

Concerns were brought up throughout the event regarding whether this new legislation will lead to a ‘chilling effect’, deterring brands from even trying to dip their toes in sustainability.

But with this topic becoming increasingly salient and consumers expecting some level of action in this space, Parker insists that brands shouldn’t be scared off. If communications are balanced and substantiated, then the more ‘qualified’ feel of the landscape under tighter regulations may actually improve your chances of building trust in this space.

5. Keep the conversation going

Finally, both Parker and my colleague Kingaby say that they are there to support brands in getting this right. This isn’t about tripping up those who are trying, but pushing advertising to do better, to reduce our advertised emissions and create more engaging communication in this space.

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Sustainability Agency Leadership Greenwashing

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