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ASCI proposes draft guidelines to curb greenwashing in environmental advertising, invites public feedback

The guidelines offer a well-defined framework for advertisers to make truthful and evidence-based assertions regarding the environment.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has made a significant move towards promoting transparency and accountability in environmental advertising. They have put forth a comprehensive set of draft guidelines on Environmental/Green Claims, which are currently open for public input until December 31, 2023. These guidelines have been formulated by a task force comprising of environmental specialists, with the objective of curbing deceptive advertising practices pertaining to environmental claims. The draft guidelines offer a well-defined framework for advertisers to make truthful and evidence-based assertions regarding the environment. Once the public feedback period concludes, the guidelines will be finalised.

Environmental claims refer to statements that suggest or create the impression that a product or service has a positive impact on the environment. These claims may also suggest that the product or service is less damaging to the environment than a previous version or a similar product, or that it has specific environmental benefits.

Environmental/Green claims can be explicit or implicit. They can appear in advertisements, marketing material, branding (including business and trading names), on packaging or in other information provided to consumers.

The draft guidelines target greenwashing – the deceptive practice of making misleading environmental claims. ASCI emphasises the paramount importance of substantiated, comparable, and verifiable claims to combat misinformation. In its ad-surveillance ASCI has found that several terms are loosely used to communicate environmental benefits, giving an impression that the product is greener than it actually is.

Proposed Guidelines: -

1. Claims that suggest a product has no impact or only a positive impact, such as environmentally friendly or sustainable, must be supported by strong evidence. Comparative claims, like greener or friendlier, can be justified if the advertised product provides a greater environmental benefit compared to previous products or competitors, with clear explanation of the basis for comparison.

2. Environmental claims should consider the entire life cycle of the product or service, unless stated otherwise, and clearly indicate the limits of the life cycle. If a general claim cannot be justified, a more specific claim about certain aspects of the product or service may be acceptable. Claims based on only part of the life cycle should not mislead consumers about the overall environmental impact.

3. Environmental claims should specify whether they refer to the product, packaging, service, or a specific portion of them, unless it is clear from the context.

4. Advertisements must not mislead consumers about the environmental benefits of a product or service by highlighting the absence of an environmentally damaging ingredient if that ingredient is not commonly found in competing products or services, or by emphasising an environmental benefit resulting from a legal obligation if competing products are also subject to the same requirements.

5.Certifications and Seals of Approval should clearly indicate the specific qualities of the product or service that have been assessed by the certifying body, along with the criteria used for certification. Any certifications and seals used in advertisements should be from a nationally or internationally recognised certifying organization.

6.     Output: The visual components in an advertisement must not mislead consumers about the product or service being promoted. For instance, using recycling logos on packaging or in advertising can greatly affect how consumers perceive the environmental effects of a product or service.

7.     Advertisers should refrain from making aspirational claims about future environmental objectives unless they have developed clear and actionable plans detailing how those objectives will be achieved.

8.   To make carbon offset claims, advertisers must transparently and prominently state if the offset will result in emission reductions that won't happen for at least two years. Advertisements should not falsely suggest that a carbon offset represents an emission reduction if it was legally required.

9.     To make claims about a product being compostable, biodegradable, recyclable, non-toxic, or free of certain elements, advertisers should specify which aspects of the product these claims refer to and to what extent. It is important that all such claims are supported by credible scientific evidence, demonstrating that the product or relevant component will break down relatively quickly after being disposed of in the usual manner. Additionally, the product should be confirmed to be free from any substances that could pose environmental risks.

Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary-General, ASCI said, "ASCI's draft guidelines on Environmental/Green Claims are a crucial step to ensure that consumers who wish to support green brands have the correct information to make an informed decision. These guidelines set a standard for advertisers, and aim to foster a culture of transparency and authenticity in advertising in the best interest of the consumers. We encourage all stakeholders, including consumers, industry, civil society members, and experts, to provide their feedback on the draft guidelines to enable us to sharpen and strengthen them.”

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