Green claims vague and confusing, says Government report

Some 40% of adverts carrying a ’green’ claim do not provide supporting information to back up the claim or compare their product to an alternative, according to a report commissioned by the Government’s Environment Department, Defra.

Shell fell foul of advertising regulations for green washing in 2008
Shell fell foul of advertising regulations for green washing in 2008

The research also found that 33% of ads make a comparison, for example ’we emit less’, yet “fail to provide details of what .they are comparing themselves to”.

As such, the report compiled by research consultancy Brook Lyndhurst concluded that Defra should offer “improved guidance and support”.

Defra’s role should be an active effort, rather than a passive one if the current ’fear to tread’ attitude among brands and advertisers is to be overcome, it reads.

Green ads represent less than 1% of total ads, a “much smaller” figure than those experts consulted for the work had envisaged.

There was a notable and rapid growth in claims between 2006 and 2007/8 (during which time they roughly tripled in number), although they have since fallen back.

This drop coincides with the worsening economic climate, but also a rising fear of greenwashing. The revision of Defra’s Green Claims Code, for which a consultation period has just ended, is seen as integral to overcoming this ’fear’.

Experts believe the next wave of green marketing is likely to be more strategic, based around how the brand fits with environmental sustainability rather than more simplistic quick wins.

WWF-UK’s head of business & industry, Dax Lovegrove, says “tinkering with CSR at the edges increasingly loses the trust of consumers, whereas those firms embracing evidence-based sustainability at the heart of the business and throughout their communications will become the preferred brands of choice. Brands need green promotions to be ambitious to drive ecologically sound practices within the private sector, yet also founded upon real action.”

The Green Claims code sets out the standard of information that the public can expect to be given about the environmental impacts of consumer products. The Government first launched the code in 1998, following wide consultation with business, consumers and environmental organisations.

The current review process is being advised by representatives from across the marketing spectrum. Steering group members charged with helping the Government stamp out ’dodgy greenwashing’ and draw up a voluntary code that will win consumer trust include marketers trade body The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) and industry body the Advertising.

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