On 16th November 2023, the Advertising Standards Council of India (“ASCI”) released the Draft Guidelines on Environmental/Green Claims (“Draft Green Claims Guidelines”) inviting public feedback. ASCI, in its press release, outlined that the primary objective of these guidelines is to eradicate greenwashing practices and to ensure that advertisers present truthful and evidence-based environmental claims. As per the Draft Green Claims Guidelines, the practice of greenwashing violates Chapter I of the ASCI’s Code for Self-Regulation of advertising content in India (“ASCI Code”) which pertains to ‘truthful & honest representations’. The deadline for submitting feedback on the Draft Green Claims Guidelines is 31st December 2023.
Key highlights of the Draft Green Claims Guidelines are as follows:
- Key Terminology: The Draft Green Claims Guidelines seek to define the following terms:
- Greenwashing has been defined as false, deceptive, misleading environmental claims about products, services, processes, brands, or operations as a whole, or claims that omit or hide information, to give the impression they are less harmful or more beneficial to the environment than they actually are.
- Environmental Claims/Green Claims are claims that suggest or create an impression that a product or a service:
- has a neutral or positive impact on the environment; or
- is less damaging to the environment than a previous version of the same product or service; or
- is less damaging to the environment than competing goods or services; or
- has specific environmental benefits.
- Types of Environmental/Green Claims: As per the Draft Green Claims Guidelines, Environmental/Green Claims can be explicit or implicit. All aspects of claims will be considered for the purposes of these guidelines including, inter alia, the meaning of the terms used, qualifications and explanations of the claim, information that is not included or hidden, the colours, pictures, and logos used, etc. Further, such claims can appear in advertisements, marketing material, branding (including business and trading names), on packaging, or in other information provided to consumers.
- Proposed Guidelines: In order to comply with the ASCI Code, the advertisers would be required to adhere to the following proposed guidelines in the Draft Green Claims Guidelines once they are finalised and adopted –
- Providing high level substantiation– Absolute claims including but not limited to “environment friendly”, “eco-friendly”, “sustainable”, and “planet friendly” that imply that the product advertised has no impact or only a positive impact must be supported by a high level of substantiation.
- Clear basis for comparative claims– Comparative claims like “greener” or “friendlier” can be justified, if the advertised product provides an overall environmental benefit compared to previous versions of the products/services or competitor products/services, and the basis of such comparison is made clear. If a general claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product or service might be justifiable.
- Full lifecycle analysis– Unless the advertisement states otherwise, environmental claims must account for the full life cycle of the advertised product or service and must clearly provide the limits of the life cycle. 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.
- Specifications– The environmental claim should clearly specify whether they pertain to the product, its packaging, a service, or a portion of the product, package, or service unless the same is clear from the context.
- Avoid misleading environmental benefits– Advertisers cannot mislead consumers about the environmental benefits by highlighting the absence of a damaging ingredient if it is not usually found in competing products or services. Furthermore, an advertiser cannot highlight, any environmental benefit as a unique feature for its products, that results from a legal obligation applicable to competing products.
- Certifications and Seals of Approval– Such certifications and seals of approval should be from a nationally/internationally recognized certifying authority and must specify which attributes of the product or service were evaluated by the certifier and must also provide the basis of such certification.
- Visual elements– The use of visual elements in an advertisement should not create a false impression about the product/service being advertised.
- Refrain from aspirational claims– As per the Draft Green Claims Guidelines, advertisers should not make aspirational claims about future environmental objectives unless they have developed clear and actionable plans detailing how those objectives will be achieved.
- Disclosure of carbon offset claims– Clear and prominent disclosure must be provided by the advertisers if the carbon offset represents emission reductions that will not occur for two years or longer. Further, 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.
- Claims about products being eco-friendly – While claiming that the advertised product is compostable, biodegradable, recyclable, non-toxic, free-of, etc., advertisers should qualify the aspects and the extent to which such claims are being attributed. These claims should be supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence that proves that the product/qualified component will break down within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal and that the product is free of elements that can lead to environmental hazards.
Over the last decade, there has been a surge in the popularity and demand for sustainable goods among consumers. This popularity and the increase in demand makes room for sellers and advertisers to make misleading claims regarding the environmental benefits that such goods can offer.
ASCI’s initiative of drawing up the Draft Green Claims Guidelines is a welcome step towards curbing greenwashing practices in India. While the issues of misleading advertisements and unfair trade practices are governed under the Consumer Protection Act, 2023, ASCI’s Draft Green Claims Guidelines seek to provide a clear framework for advertisers to address greenwashing in India by requiring advertisers to present truthful and evidence-based environmental claims. The Draft Green Claims Guidelines have the potential to empower consumers to make informed decisions about the products they purchase while holding the advertisers accountable for their claims.
The ASCI Code itself requires advertisers to make claims, descriptions, and comparisons, which relate to matters of objectively ascertainable facts, that are capable of substantiation. Accordingly, the evidence-based approach of the Draft Green Claims Guidelines seems like a natural extension of this requirement. Although ASCI is a self-regulatory body, the ASCI Code and the guidelines issued by ASCI from time to time, are widely accepted in India among industries, advertisers, advertising agencies, and media and PR agencies. Accordingly, brands will have to make conscious efforts to avoid any non-compliance with the Draft Green Claims Guidelines, once they are finalised and adopted.
Draft Guidelines on Environmental/Green Claims – https://www.ascionline.in/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/DRAFT-GUIDELINES.-Environmental.Green-Claims-16.11.2023.pdf
ASCI’s press release on the Draft Guidelines on Environmental/Green Claims – https://www.ascionline.in/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/PR.-Draft-Enviormental-Green-Claims-16.11.23.pdf