EXCLUSIVE: Greenwashing sparks a major review of the AANA’s environmental claims code

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 5 October 2022
Source: Muhammad Daudy via Unsplash

The Australian Association of National Advertisers plans a major review of its environmental claims code as the Competition watchdog, the ACCC, takes a hard line on greenwashing.

Julie Flynn, AANA interim CEO, said: “All of our members and the wider industry need to understand that greenwashing is a serious issue. 

“Consumers aren’t stupid and if you don’t treat your consumers with respect you are going to find yourself on the wrong end of this debate.” 

The ACCC (Competition watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) has warned businesses to be prepared to back up their environmental claims when marketing their goods and services. And more recently launched an internet sweep to identify misleading environmental and sustainability marketing claims, targeting at least 200 company websites.

The ACCC says it is hearing growing concerns that some businesses are falsely promoting environmental or green credentials to capitalise on changing consumer preferences. 

The AANA told AdNews: “We welcome the ACCC guidance that businesses need to be ready to substantiate any environmental or sustainability claims when marketing their goods and services.

“AANA has a strong environmental claims code that applies to all advertisers on all platforms in Australia. Under the code advertisers making environmental claims must ensure they are truthful, factual and able to be substantiated. The code aligns with Australian consumer law. 

“AANA recognises that community expectations and international standards around substantiating environmental claims are evolving. 

“To ensure the Code reflects these evolving standards and expectations, the AANA environmental claims code will undergo a major review later this year. As part of the review, AANA is undertaking an audit of global best practices on environmental claims.

“Earlier this year World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) endorsed a world first Global Guidance on environmental claims. The guidance details principles and global best practice to help brands ensure that environmental claims are credible to consumers and importantly, can be backed up if challenged."

Agencies are watching closely.

Joel Trethowan, managing director of certified B Corporation and independent media agency, Alchemy One, said: "It's disappointing that regulation is needed, but too many brands are misleading consumers. 

“The issue is only becoming more extensive due to consumers' increasing demand for aligning their values with their purchase decisions. 

“Greenwashing and misinformation needs to be mitigated to ensure consumers aren't being misled through advertising. Regulation is necessary so that consumers can buy with certainty and confidence, and companies need to be able to back up any green claims with data. 

“I believe this should then extend to agencies who should be checking/testing these green claims of clients to ensure they do not spread misinformation and align with regulation requirements. 

“In addition, any new guidelines should include not just concrete claims (i.e., we are net zero) but also the use of imagery and language to ensure companies don't try to capitalise on other greenwashing cues."

Angela Tangas, dentsu ANZ CEO, also sees the rise of client interest in environmentally responsible partners and as an agency enacts practical solutions to ensure they are satisfying that demand.

“It’s almost becoming the norm that clients are choosing partners that align with their values, not just the budget," she says.

"This is increasingly evident in the RFP process, where businesses are wanting to understand our own sustainability, environment, and supply chain policies – and so they should, just like customers and consumers do of them.

“Our commitment and progress towards reaching true net zero by 2040, and the practical solutions and products we’re creating to help clients make better, smarter choices. 

“A great example is our Merkle business now being an accredited implementation partner of Salesforce Net Zero Cloud across ANZ – a tool that enables businesses to track, manage, and analyse their data to get a clearer picture of their carbon emissions and progress towards their net zero targets. 

“In light of the ACCC announcement, our capabilities in this space will further help us and our clients substantiate, and make tangible, our collective sustainability credentials to regulators in the market.”

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