Advertisers frequently integrate environmental claims into their advertisements and promotions to portray their products and services as eco-friendly or green, and to shape consumers’ perception of their positive environmental impact. This is particularly influenced by the growing environmental consciousness among consumers and advertisers. However, to prevent advertisements that may be false and misleading to consumers, exploit their environmental sensitivity, and potentially lead to unfair competition among competitors, detailed legal regulations regarding the use of environmental claims need to be established. This way, the protection of consumers and the prevention of fair competition among advertisers can be ensured.
The primary goal of the legal rules regulating advertisements featuring environmental claims in Türkiye revolves around this core principle. Article 17 of the Regulation on Commercial Advertisements and Unfair Commercial Practices ("Regulation") specifically regulates environmental claims in advertising. Within the scope of this fundamental rule, essentially three principles have been established. Accordingly, (i) Advertisements must not abuse consumers’ environmental sensitivity or their potential lack of knowledge; (ii) Environmental signs in advertisements cannot be used in a deceptive manner; and (iii) Environmental claims must be substantiated by scientific proof and technical demonstrations based on scientific studies, namely scientific evidence from the relevant departments of universities.
To guide implementation of the Regulation in terms of environmental claims, the Advertisement Board enacted the Guideline for Environmental Claims in Advertising ("Guideline") in December 2022. Aligned with the provisions of the Regulation, the Guideline provides road map on how to run environmental claims.
The Advertisement Board is highly sensitive when it comes to supervision of environmental claims in advertisements. Special attention is given to the aspirational environmental benefit claims, primarily to prevent greenwashing and the deceptive exploitation of consumers' sensitivities. Even before the enactment of the Guideline, the Advertisement Board rendered decisions examining aspirational claims related to targeted future environmental impacts. In some cases, it was determined that the burden of proof was not fulfilled, meanwhile in some cases, it was determined that the said claim was supported by a clear and verifiable strategy plan of the advertiser.
For example, the Advertisement Board, in its decision dated October 2022, evaluated that an air transportation company's advertisements claiming that "We Are Reducing Our Flight-Related Carbon Emission Intensity by 20% by 2030!" was related to the company's future targets and the Advertisement Board ruled that the said target was based on a clear and verifiable strategy plan of the company, and therefore, the claims were not illusory and were not in violation of the advertising rules.
In another decision issued in November 2022, the Advertisement Board scrutinized aspirational claims for cleaning product such as "With our bottles made of 25% recycled plastic, we aim to prevent the production of an average of 70 tons of pure plastic", "We aim to achieve net zero emissions by 2039, before 2050 as set by the Paris Agreement" and "Most of the components of our products are composed of highly biodegradable ingredients and our goal is to make this 100%". Based on the information, documents and test results submitted by the advertiser in connection with these claims, the Advertisement Board held that these aspirational claims were substantiated and were compliant.
In the light of the principles outlined in the above-mentioned decisions, the Advertisement Board clarified in the Guideline that aspirational environmental benefit claims can be used only if such claims are included in a strategy plan that is publicly available and verifiable. In other words, aspirational claims must not be misleading, advertisers must be able to demonstrate that such goals are scientifically provable.
After enactment of the Guideline, the Advertisement Board clearly referred to such principle in its recent decision dated June 2023. The Advertisement Board examined the "Zero Carbon Target" claim of an advertiser. The advertisements claiming "We have set a new target for ourselves; Zero Carbon Target! Within the framework of the Zero Carbon Target, we have determined new updates in our production areas, supply chain and products", "We redesigned our unique products in the world with the Zero Carbon Target. We preferred 100% recyclable films in product packaging and used plant-based paints in its minimalist design” were found to be misleading. The Advertisement Board reasoned that environmental aspirational claims can be used only if such claims are included in a strategy plan that is publicly available and verifiable. The Advertisement Board held that the claims published in the company's website could not be substantiated by sufficient evidence to be gathered from the universities or accredited research, testing and assessment institutions. The Advertisement Board issued permanent cease order for these advertisements.
Based on these decisions, it is evident that the Advertisement Board conducts a thorough assessment regarding the basis of aspirational environmental claims and examines whether the burden of proof is properly fulfilled or not as per the legislation in force. The Advertisement Board established a uniform practice in its decisions regarding the supervision of aspirational environmental claims.
In accordance with the Advertisement Board’s approach, we advise advertisers intending to use aspirational environmental claims, to substantiate these claims based on verifiable strategy plan grounded on accurate information and evidence, to make this strategy plan publicly accessible by publishing it in their website and to ensure that the claims they use are both realistic and are supported by scientific evidence.
Special thanks to Bilge Ayperi Kemer for her contributions.
First published by GALA Blog in 18.09.2023.