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Substantiate green claims with data, ASCI tells advertisers

Substantiate green claims with data, ASCI tells advertisers
  • As consumer demand for environmentally friendly products and services rises, it becomes crucial for advertisers to make reliable and verifiable claims.
  • Claims such as ‘environment-friendly’ must be substantiated by robust data or credible accreditations.
  • It is crucial that such claims do not mislead consumers regarding the overall environmental impact of the product or service.
Greenwashing was in the news last year when fashion brand H&M got embroiled in a scandal. It was alleged that its ‘conscious’ collection deceives consumers into believing that the products are sustainable, while they’re actually not.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has introduced guidelines to combat deceptive pro-environment assertions, prevalent across various sectors.

These "Guidelines for Advertisements Making Environmental/Green Claims," have undergone public consultation since November 16, 2023, and received approval in the recent Board of Governors meeting. Effective from February 15, 2024, the objective is to ensure that environmental claims made in advertisements are credible, verifiable, and transparent.

As consumer demand for environmentally friendly products and services rises, it becomes crucial for advertisers to make reliable and verifiable claims. The guidelines target greenwashing, which involves making false or misleading environmental assertions about products, services, brands, or operations.

Says Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary-General, ASCI, “Consumers today are exercising their preferences for green products, and in many cases, pay a premium for them. It is necessary that consumers have the correct information to make informed choices to support green products. It is also important that organisations that genuinely provide greener products are able to communicate this clearly to consumers.”

Substantiate claims though strong data

One key focus is on absolute claims such as "environment-friendly," which ASCI emphasises must be substantiated by strong data or credible accreditations. Importantly, these absolute claims cannot be diluted by disclaimers or other clarifying mechanisms like QR codes or website links.

ASCI's guidelines also address comparative claims, such as those asserting a product is "greener" or "friendlier". For these claims, advertisers are required to provide evidence demonstrating the environmental benefits of the advertised product over its predecessors or competitor products. The basis for such comparisons needs to be explicitly stated, ensuring transparency in the messaging.

Environmental claims need to be more specific

General environmental claims come under scrutiny as well, with a requirement that they consider the entire life cycle of the advertised product or service.

If a general environmental claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim focusing on specific aspects of the product or service may be acceptable. It is crucial that such claims do not mislead consumers regarding the overall environmental impact of the product or service.

ASCI emphasises the necessity for clear communication in environmental claims. Advertisements should explicitly specify whether the claim refers to the product, packaging, service, or only a portion of these. Additionally, the guidelines caution against misleading consumers by highlighting the absence of environmentally damaging elements that are not typically present in competing products.

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