UK Advertising Watchdog Cracks Down on Greenwashing

UK Advertising Watchdog Cracks Down on Greenwashing

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), the UK's advertising watchdog, is cracking down on greenwashing. This year, the ASA plans to release new advice for advertising agencies to ensure they don't produce misleading information about climate. The ASA will also launch an inquiry into claims made by companies in particularly carbon-intensive sectors such as aviation, energy, waste, and animal-based food. The agency will also review ads highlighting net-zero pledges and carbon neutrality to confirm they are backed by research and data.

ValeroEnergy: Valero for Life, December 30, 2021.

Now This: Sheldon Whitehouse on Greenwashing and Fossil Fuel Industry, May 14, 2021.

Why This Matters

Greenwashing in advertising is nothing new. The ASA's more aggressive stance reflects a shift in which customers and advocacy organizations alike challenge deceptive environmental claims. A recent study looked at four major oil companies -- Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell -- and found that while they have increasingly used language like "climate," "low-carbon," and "transition" in company reports, fossil fuels still comprise most of their business.

Almost 50 complaints are currently pending globally before a court or an advertising standards body. Meanwhile, activists and scientists have been challenging PR firms and advertising agencies for spreading climate misinformation and disinformation.

Greenpeace: Uncovering polluters' offsetting scams, October 26, 2021.

VICE: The Fossil Fuel Industry Wants You to Think It’s Solving Climate Change, July 14, 2021.

Lying By Omission

Greenwashing in advertising is particularly hard for customers to notice because the problem isn't usually what the ad says; it's what it doesn’t say.

"It is often what these companies don't tell you in their advertising campaigns which is the real problem," Sophie Manjanac, a senior lawyer at environmental law charity ClientEarth, told the BBC. Fossil fuel companies tout their clean energy projects, omitting that these are "just a fraction of their overall business, with the majority of their spending pumped into traditional oil and gas operations."

ClientEarth: Greenwashing Files - Aramco, April 18, 2021

ClientEarth: Greenwashing Files - Total, April 18, 2021.

Joana Setzer, a research fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, added: "Greenwashing is not new. What is new is the amount of sustainability commitments [from companies] and the unfortunate likelihood that many of these are quite empty and won't be delivered."

Al Jazeera: Should fossil fuel advertising be regulated?, October 20, 2021.

ENDEVR: How Oil Companies Hid the Truth About Climate Change (Documentary), November 24, 2021.