When you watch the commercials, do you often feel like advertising companies are working hard to convince you that their products or services are “eco”, “environmentally friendly”, “nature friendly”, “green” and “recyclable”? Does environmentally-friendly feature of a product have any impact on your preference to purchase or use it? In fact, are we yet at the end of an era of advertising products that are not “green” enough but promoted to be “green”?
The “green advertising” hype, which is the reason of all these question marks in our minds, is escalating due to the fact that many companies carrying out activities in various industries have based their marketing and advertising strategies off on “green transformation” pillar. Although we are of the opinion that these steps taken in the business side with an environmentally cautious motivation should be supported considering that we are running out of time to save our planet, it should not be ignored that this environmentally friendly approach followed in advertisements might result in abuse of consumers’ sensitivity for environment or possible lack of their knowledge in this field. This type of green statements are sometimes placed on the surface of a product or on its packaging or included in the advertisements or published on the advertising company’s website in a manner to cover all of the products or services offered by the company or to refer company’s sustainability vision. Accordingly, it is important to determine whether advertisements and promotions containing environmental claims and environmental claims purported as a part of companies’ sustainability visions are in compliance with law.
In this respect, the Guideline for Environmental Claims in Advertising (“Guideline”) has been enacted by the Advertisement Board pursuant to the Law on Consumer Protection no. 6502 and the Regulation on Commercial Advertisement and Unfair Commercial Practices. We have included below some of the special provisions from the Guideline which address the environmental claims that consumers are mostly exposed to.
“Environmental claim” is defined under the Guideline as statement or visual relating to environmental benefits or not having harmful environmental effects about the components, manufacturing method, supply process, use or destroy of the advertised products or services. As this is a broad definition, it is fair to argue that any kind of statement and practice related to environmental impact could be evaluated as environmental claim. The Guideline has introduced important rules in order to prevent advertisements and promotions containing environmental claims from abusing consumer’s sensitivity for environment and misleading consumers about the environmental impacts of the offered products and services.
We observe that most common environmental claims included in advertisements are “green”, “sustainable”, “eco”, “environmental friendly”, “zero waste”, “carbon neutral”, “green energy”. These claims should not be used without further explanation or in a manner that cause ambiguity in the part of consumers regarding the environmental impacts of the promoted products and services. Advertisements should contain detailed information pertaining to what the environmental claim is about, for what and how it is used, whether it wholly or partially pertains to the life cycle of the product. Briefly, if you cannot understand from the advertisement what aspect of a product or service claimed to be "green" is "green", that advertisement may be deceiving you. Additionally, consumers must explicitly be informed about whether environmental claims regarding “biodegradable”, “soluble” or “recyclable” features of goods are related to the whole product including its packing or just a part of it. If only a part of the product is recyclable, then it is not proper to advertise it as if the whole product is recyclable. For instance, in the case that packaging of a drink contains the phrase “recyclable” along with a visual supporting this claim, if the bottle cap is not recyclable, then the advertisement presenting the whole bottle as a recyclable product would be contrary to the law even if the bottle itself is entirely consisted of recyclable components. Consumers must not be misled about use of renewable energy in manufacturing of a product or its packaging. For example, an advertisement made by a textile company promoting its textile products using the phrase “manufactured with wind power”, while indeed only 50% of the total energy used for manufacturing was wind power, then such advertisement would be against the law for failing to fully inform consumers. Similarly, advertisements must clearly indicate to which section, part or process of a product or service the mentioned environmental claim refers. For instance, it must be explicitly mentioned whether “zero emission” or a visual supporting this claim refers to before sales or after sales portion of the manufacturing process of the promoted product.
Another important point is that environmental claims pertaining to the legal procedures and standards with which goods or services or advertisers must legally comply or procedures and components that should not normally be used, cannot be communicated in a manner that would cause the impression that the mentioned products or service, procedure or the company is different than or superior to its rivals or equivalents. For example, it would be unlawful to state “We reduce phosphate usage” in advertising of a detergent product and its packaging since phosphate usage for detergent manufacturing is already subject to strict limitations under the law. Therefore, it might be misleading to create an impression as if compulsory limitations which must be obeyed by all brands in the market are only followed by the advertising brand.
On the other hand, environmental claims related to targeted future environmental impacts of products or services may be used in advertisements only if such claims are included in a strategy plan that is publicly available and verifiable. In other words, advertising companies should not make statements such as “We are reducing our carbon emission by 80% by 2030!” “We will become entirely carbon neutral by the end of the year!” unless they have a strategy plan that satisfies the criteria mentioned above.
Also, the content of the comparison made through comparative environmental claims contained in advertisements, particularly whether the advertiser compare the mentioned product with its own previous products under the same brand or with products of its rivals, must explicitly be communicated to customer. For example, the statement “20% more recycled components” might be confusing since consumers might interpret in two ways. It is hard to understand whether the comparison is made between advertising companies’ new and old products or between advertising companies’ products and its rivals’ products. Therefore, such a claim should not be included in advertisements unless accompanied by further explanatory note.
The Advertisement Board was thoroughly examining advertisements containing environmental claims and was imposing cease of advertisement sanctions and monetary fines even prior to publication of the Guideline. Upon the Guideline, we evaluate that the Guideline will help establishing a uniform practice with respect to advertisements containing environmental claims and preventing publication of advertisements that might abuse consumers’ environmental sensitivity and mislead them regarding environmental impacts of products.