The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has finalised guidelines to prevent deceptive or unsubstantiated environment-related claims by brands in advertising often referred to as greenwashing.

These guidelines which will come into effect from February 15, state that absolute claims such as “environment friendly”, “eco friendly”, “planet friendly” or “sustainable” must be substantiated with robust data backed by credible accreditations. Even comparative claims such as “greener” or “friendlier” would need to be backed by evidence.

On absolute claims, the self-regulatory body added that “such absolute claims cannot be diluted by means of a disclaimer or any other clarificatory mechanism such as a QR code or website link etc.”

Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary-General, ASCI told businessline,” We have been monitoring that brands across sectors are increasingly making green claims and often charging a premium from consumers. This is because of growing awareness among consumers who are willing to pay a premium for green products.”

‘Environmentally friendly’

Kapoor pointed out that while efforts being made by brands to focus on becoming more environmentally friendly is commendable, it is equally important that consumers are protected from deceptive green claims.“ Future promises of being green cannot be made unless there are some specific plans to achieve those claims. Similarly, if only a part of the product is green then that should be specified. So, we believe that these guidelines are a significant step towards promoting transparency and accountability in environmental/ green claims made in advertising,” she said.

In a bid to prevent misleading claims regarding a products’ life cycle, the guidelines added that, “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.” It also advises that when general environment claims cannot be justified, then a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product or service might be justifiable.

“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,” the guidelines stated.

Also, ads cannot mislead consumers by highlighting claims such as “free-of” an environmentally damaging ingredient when it is not usually found in competing 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,” the ASCI guidelines noted.

It has also outlined parameters for claims regarding compostable, biodegradable, recyclable and non-toxic among others.

“For carbon offset claims, where offset does not occur within the next two years, advertisers should clearly and prominently disclose the same. Ads should not claim that a carbon offset represents an emission reduction if the reduction, or the activity that caused the reduction, was required by law,” the guidelines added.

ASCI is working closely with the Department of Consumer Affairs on the issue of prevention of greenwashing in ads.