Greener Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands covers best practices in green marketing in use by top companies throughout the project life cycle, from innovation and development to product marketing and labeling. This post is part two of a four-part series on strategic corporate sustainability communications from both regulatory and market-driven perspectives.
There are three main governmental regulatory schemes that cover the environmental product related claims: 1) United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Green Guides, (2) Canadian Competition Bureau (CSA) Environmental Claims: A Guide for Industry and Advertisers, and (3) the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Green Claims Guidance have been enforcement actions taken against firms that have made misleading claims. I anticipate that enforcement actions will increase along with the many green claims being made in commerce. Any company considering making green marketing claims must be fully aware and compliant with these guidelines.
Published in 2011, one of the most current regulatory agency guidelines on making green claims is from the United Kingdom, the Green Claims Guidance by DEFRA. The document gives some very good guidance to firms that want to make claims about the green characteristics of their products. There are three main themes: claims should be clear, accurate, and substantiated. These three focus areas are the essence of good green marketing. The following steps and explanations are recommended by DEFRA and make a lot of sense for any marketer that would like to make their customers aware of the environmental benefits of their products.
1) Step 1: Ensure the Content of the Claim is Relevant and Reflects a Genuine Benefit to the Environment.
First consider the full environmental impact of your product (and supply chain), service, or organization. Check that the claim is relevant to those environmental impacts, and/or your business and consumer interests. Ensure that the claim does not focus on issues of low significance or importance. When comparing products, ensure that the comparison is fair and relevant.
2) Step 2: Present the Claim Clearly and Accurately.
Ensure the claim is presented in a way that is accurate, clear, specific, and unambiguous, and is easily understood by consumers.
A claim should not be easily misinterpreted or omit significant information. The scope of the claim should be clear: Does it address the whole product or only one part? Do not use vague, ambiguous words (e.g., “environmentally friendly”) or jargon that may be easily misinterpreted or confuse consumers. All imagery must be relevant to the claim and not likely to be misinterpreted.
DEFRA Example of a Poor Practice
A product sold widely in the United Kingdom claimed: “this product is recyclable” when most areas of the United Kingdom do not have the correct infrastructure to recycle it. The term “recyclable” should only be used when there is actually an infrastructure in place that enables the recycling of the product.
3) Step 3: Ensure the Claim Can Be Substantiated.
There must be data to substantiate all claims. Green claims are enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the United Kingdom’s regulator of advertising. They monitor claims to ensure that they are “legal, decent, honest and truthful according to the advertising standards codes.”
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