This grey area between the positive portrayal of what you are selling and outright lying was undeniably exploited during the early days of the environmental boom, as company after company sought to promote their newly minted green credentials. But the proliferation of so-called “greenwash” over the last five years has only served to alienate consumers and prompted governments and industry regulators to take increasingly tough action against those firms that overstate their green credentials.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has wrapped a lot of knuckles in recent years over green advertising claims which do not stand up to scrutiny. For example, Renault recently fell foul of the ASA after viewer’s complained about its use of “zero emissions” in an ad for an electric car, while the long running campaign for a third runway at Heathrow has been pulled up for an ad which stated that the expansion would not “make Heathrow any noisier or dirtier”.
Even the government has not escaped scrutiny and was rebuked for a series of controversial ads calling on people to curb their carbon emissions.
According to the Greenwash Guide from sustainable marketing consultancy Futerra, utilities have traditionally been hit with most reprimands by the ASA with car companies and holiday firms also consistently guilty of violating green ad guidelines.
But ultimately the report identifies the advertising industry and the newspapers and TV stations carry their ads as lying at the root of the problem. “None of the UK’s biggest advertising agencies claim to have training or guidelines for their staff on what is a justified green claim,” it states. “And none of the main publications in the UK who sell advertising space have their own standard.”
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