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The Advertising Standards Council of India’s Guidelines for Advertisements Making Environmental/Green Claims

The Advertising Standards Council of India’s Guidelines for Advertisements Making Environmental/Green Claims

On 18th January 2024, the Advertising Standards Council of India (“ASCI”) issued the Guidelines for Advertisements Making Environmental/Green Claims (Green Claims Guidelines”) which are effective from 15th February 2024.

As per the preamble, the Green Claims Guidelines have been issued to do the following:

  • Demonstrate the manner in which advertisers can make true, clear, evidence-based environment claims;
  • Assist consumers in making informed choices while purchasing goods based on any environmental claims; and
  • Explain ASCI’s approach in investigating environmental claims and any contravention of the ASCI’s Code of Self-Regulation of Advertising Content in India (“ASCI’s Code”).

Key highlights of the Green Claims Guidelines are as follows:

  • Key Terminology: The Green Claims Guidelines define the following terms:
    • Environmental Claims/Green Claims include claims that suggest or create an impression that a product and/or its packaging or a service inter alia is comparably less damaging to the environment than the previous version of the same product/service or competing goods/service; or has specific environmental benefits.
    • Greenwashing has been defined as unsubstantiated, 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 that they are less harmful or more beneficial to the environment than they actually are.
  • Manner of making Environmental/Green Claims:
    • As per the Green Claims Guidelines, environmental/green claims can be explicit or implicit.
    • These claims can appear in the following forms – advertisements, marketing material, branding, packaging, or any information provided to the consumers.
    • As per the ASCI, all aspects of the environmental/green claims would be relevant 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.
  • Violation: Any environmental claim that qualifies as “greenwashing” would be considered to be violative of Chapter I of the ASCI Code which pertains to ‘Truthful & Honest Representation’.
  • Guidelines: In order to comply with the ASCI Code, the advertisers are required to adhere to the following guidelines–
    • Substantiation for absolute claims – Any absolute claims made in the form of inter alia “environment friendly”, “eco-friendly”, “sustainable”, and “planet friendly” must be substantiated by robust data or well recognized and credible accreditations or both if they are capable of implying that the entire product advertised has no impact or only a positive impact or reduces adverse impact.
    • No dilution of absolute claims – The Green Claims Guidelines prohibit any dilution of absolute claims through disclaimers or any other clarificatory mechanisms, such as QR codes or website links.
    • Evidence for comparative claims– Evidence regarding environmental benefits must be provided for comparative claims like “greener” or “friendlier” and the basis of such comparison should be made clear.
    • Full lifecycle analysis– Unless the advertisement states otherwise, general 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. Advertisements should not mislead consumers about the overall environmental impact of a product/service if such advertisements make claims based solely on a portion of its life cycle.
    • 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 should not mislead consumers about the environmental benefits of a product/service, 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 feature for its products, that results from a legal obligation applicable to competing products.
    • Free-of Claims – A ‘free-of’ claim should come with disclaimers. Asserting that a product is “free-of” a substance if the product is devoid of one substance but contains another with a comparable or greater environmental risk will be considered deceptive claim.
    • Certifications and Seals of Approval– An advertiser must specify the attributes of the product/ service that were evaluated by the certifier if the use of certification or seals of approval creates the impression of an environmental claim. Such certifications and seals of approval should be from a nationally/internationally recognized certifying authority like agency accredited by the UN Council, BIS, etc.
    • Visual elements– Unless required under any law, the Green Claims Guidelines prohibit the use of visual elements in an advertisement that create a false impression that the product being advertised is less harmful or more beneficial to the environment.
    • Refrain from aspirational claims– As per the Green Claims Guidelines, advertisers should not make aspirational claims on the products, its packaging, or services about any 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 will not occur for two years or longer. Advertisements must avoid suggesting, directly or by implication, that a carbon offset signifies a reduction in emissions if that reduction, or the action leading to it, was mandated 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 clarify 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.
Our Take

By providing guidelines for environmental/green claims, the ASCI has specifically taken cognizance of green claims and greenwashing by traders and sellers while recognizing that consumers are increasingly taking environmental concerns into consideration while purchasing any good/service.

Since the issue of misinformation is statutorily dealt under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (“CPA”, read with the Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022), the Department of Consumer Affairs is also taking the initiative of providing guidelines on environmental claims. Notably, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (“CCPA”) had, in February 2024, sought comments from the public and stakeholders on the draft Guidelines for Prevention and Regulation of Greenwashing. Since the CCPA is yet to issue the finalised guidelines, the Green Claims Guidelines by ASCI provide guidance on parameters that should be considered to assess whether the environmental/green claim is true and backed by evidence.

Further, ASCI works closely with the CCPA to protect consumer interests, particularly on the issue of misleading advertisements. As per ASCI’s press release of March 2024, CCPA has requested ASCI to forward any advertisement that is non-compliant with the ASCI Code (and the guidelines) which could also potentially violate the CPA, or any of its guidelines, to CCPA for appropriate action. Accordingly, advertisers must ensure that any advertisement that has green claims is true, can be substantiated, and does not violate the ASCI Code and the Green Claim Guidelines (thereby potentially violating the CPA and the Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022). Non-compliance of the same can lead to escalation of the complaint by the ASCI to the CCPA for action under the CPA.

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