Campaign India Team
Jan 18, 2024

ASCI releases guidelines to clamp down on false environmental claims in ads

Effective 15 February 2024, these guidelines aim to ensure that environmental claims made by advertisers are reliable, verifiable, and transparent

ASCI releases guidelines to clamp down on false environmental claims in ads
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has issued its guidelines to prevent false pro-environment claims, also known as greenwashing, that have been seen across sectors.
These 'guidelines for advertisements making environmental/ green claims', have been in the public domain for consultation since 16 November 2023, and were approved in the regulator’s recent board of governors meeting.
Effective 15 February 2024, these guidelines aim to ensure that environmental claims made by advertisers are reliable, verifiable, and transparent, the advertising regulator stated in a press release.
This is based on the thought that consumers are increasingly demanding products and services which minimise harm to or have a positive effect on, the environment. As a result of a proliferation of products, services and businesses which claim to meet that demand such claims must be reliable and verifiable, it further said.
Greenwashing violates chapter I of the ASCI code on misleading advertisements, according to the regulator. Advertisements must adhere to the following guidelines to evade breaching the code:
Here are the guidelines in full: 
1. Absolute claims such as but not limited to “environment friendly”, “eco-friendly”, “sustainable”, and “planet friendly” that imply that the entire product advertised has no impact or only a positive impact or reduces adverse impact must be capable of being substantiated by robust data and/ or well-recognised and credible accreditations. Such absolute claims cannot be diluted using a disclaimer or any other clarificatory mechanism such as a QR code or website link etc.
2. Comparative claims such as "greener" or "friendlier" would need evidence that the advertised product or service provides an environmental benefit over that of the advertiser's previous product or service or competitor products or services and the basis of such comparison is made clear.
3. A general environmental claim must be based on the full life cycle of the advertised product or service, unless the advertisement states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. If a general environmental claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product or service might be justifiable. Claims that are based on only part of an advertised product or service's life cycle must not mislead consumers about the product or service's total environmental impact.
4.Unless it is clear from the context, an environmental claim should specify whether it refers to the product, the product’s packaging, a service, or just to a portion of the product, package, or service.
5. Advertisements must not mislead consumers about the environmental benefit that a product or service offers by highlighting the absence of an environmentally damaging ingredient if that ingredient is not usually found in competing products or services. Similarly, advertisements must not claim an environmental benefit that results from a legal obligation if competing products are subject to the same requirements.
Where such ‘free-of’ claim is necessary to equip the consumers with relevant information, an appropriate disclaimer should be added to indicate the purpose e.g. “XX-Free: (Names of regulation) prohibit the use of (name of prohibited substance/ingredient) in (category of products)”. It would be deceptive to claim that a product is “free of” a substance if it is free of one substance but includes another that is known to pose a similar or higher environmental risk.
6. Where the use of Certifications or Seals of Approval create the impression of an environmental claim to consumers, then the advertiser should make clear what attributes of the product or service have been evaluated by the certifier.  The advertiser should ensure that the certifying agency is nationally/internationally accredited by a certifying authority for e.g. agency accredited by the UN council/committee, BIS etc.
7. An advertiser shall not use visual elements in an advertisement which result in the advertisement conveying a false impression that the product is less harmful or more beneficial to the environment when seen as a whole unless required under law. For example, logos representing a recycling process on packaging and/or in advertising material can significantly influence a consumer’s impression of the environmental impact of a product or service.
Visual elements for the above purpose shall not include the colour scheme related to nature or environment or images of natural ingredients or natural elements used on the products/ packaging / services as a part of its creative brand identity or trademark/tradename unless such elements used are connected directly to any Environmental Claim made on such products/ packaging / services to influence a consumer’s impression of the environmental impact of a product, packaging or service. For example, a green coloured packaging with natural ingredients contained in the product will not be considered as contributing to a green claim unless it refers to an environmental claim
8. Advertisers should refrain from making aspirational claims on the products/ packaging/services about future environmental objectives unless they have developed clear and actionable plans detailing how those objectives will be achieved.
9. For carbon offset claims where the offset does not occur within the next two years, advertisers should clearly and prominently disclose the same. Advertisements should not claim directly or by implication that a carbon offset represents an emission reduction if the reduction, or the activity that caused the reduction, was required by law.
10. For claims about the product being compostable, biodegradable, recyclable, non-toxic, free-of etc. advertisers should qualify the aspects to which such claims are being attributed, and the extent of the same. All such claims should have competent and reliable scientific evidence to show that:
a) The product or the qualified component where applicable will break down within a reasonably short period after customary disposal.
b) The product is free of elements that can lead to environmental hazards.
The guidelines also require that all seals and certifications must be from accredited organisations. Future promises of being green cannot be made unless there are some specific plans to achieve those claims.
Manisha Kapoor, CEO and secretary-general, ASCI said, “Consumers today are exercising their preferences for green products, and in many cases, pay a premium for them. It is necessary that consumers have the correct information to make informed choices to support green products. It is also important that organizations that genuinely provide greener products are able to communicate this clearly to consumers. The Government too has expressed their concern on greenwashing or false green claims, and we believe that these guidelines are a significant step towards promoting transparency and accountability in environmental/ green claims made in advertising.”
Earlier in November last year, in a significant move to crack down on greenwashing in the country and to ensure that advertisers’ green claims are true and evidence-based, the regulator had proposed and drafted guidelines, which were open for feedback and consultation from various stakeholders until 31 December 2023.


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