An advert by drinks company Innocent has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority following complaints of greenwashing. Environmentalist groups reported the advert for claiming drinking smoothies is good for the planet.

This case is the perfect example of how incredibly challenging it is for businesses now to talk about their green credentials, without falling foul of the law. But equally, how influential their claims can be and the need therefore to take a more cautious approach than many have been doing. 

It’s not just the ASA that brands need to worry about; other regulators, including the Competition and Markets Authority, are cracking down on the use of vague, untrue and misleading claims about sustainability. We’re going to see a lot of these types of stories this year, so brands really do need to start taking a considered approach to what they’re saying or inferring about their brand and products. 

For brands that are investing in environmental improvements but also, say, using single-use plastic in their packaging, this case presents a unique dilemma: how can they reap the rewards of their investments and compete against others in their category that aren’t doing as much as they are? How can they make a slick and successful advert while also giving people enough information and caveats to make an informed decision about what they choose to buy? Will we see more small print and rapidly-spoken legal disclaimers, as in the financial services industry? 

The regulators will be reasonable in the way they apply the law and their recent guidance, but they are clearly determined to turn the tide on “greenwashing”. As such, their high-profile, national campaign to crack down on this issue will feel like a baptism of fire for most brands. Many companies will be surprised by just how far the regulators expect them to go to verify and justify their green claims, how many checks they are expected to make, and where the regulators draw the line.

For brands, the devil will be in the detail; they will need to consider what they are saying, what a reasonable consumer would take from that, whether their claims can be justified, and whether they’re leaving anything out that would make their claims less convincing.

Read the ASA ruling.


Date published

23 February 2022


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