'Green' Claims in Advertising: The Legal Issues

Author:Ms Deidre Kilroy
Profession:LK Shields
 
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For many years the health and beauty industries have had to comply with legal restrictions relating to claims that extol the health benefits of a particular product or cosmetic. A similar approach is now being taken to advertisements that use such terms as "green", "carbon neutral", "environmentally friendly", "eco", "renewable" and "sustainable".

Concerns regarding climate change, fuel costs/scarcity and global warming influence the purchase choices that some consumers and businesses make. Different industries now focus more on the environmentally friendly aspects of their offerings when advertising. Care needs to taken when describing technology, products, services or processes, entities in "green" terms. These claims should not be used in a manner that is misleading, inaccurate and or that is not grounded in fact. Otherwise they may be seen to be engaging in what more cynical commentators have described as "green washing".

Those focusing on the "green" aspects of their services or products will need to be aware of the legal requirements of any "green" claims. Regulators such as the National Consumer Agency may take issue with advertising copy and competitors may also use the law to prevent certain advertisements being displayed or aired or to require changes to be made to them. Legal cases involving advertising can be publically embarrassing, damage goodwill and the brand and of course can be costly for those involved.

BORD GAIS ENERGY CHALLENGE TO AIRTRICITY'S "GREEN ELECTRICITY" CAMPAIGN The recent successful legal complaints in relation to Airtricity advertisements are a good example, illustrating the legal issues in this area. Airtricity ran a campaign which not only informed consumers that switching to Airtricity would help save "trees", "bunny rabbits", "our future" and "a lot of money", but which also described the electricity as "green electricity" and compared the offering to ESB and Bord Gais in environmental terms.

Bord Gais Energy, competitors of Airtricity in the Irish residential electricity market, successfully complained to the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) about Airtricity and the press and radio advertisements.

"GREEN ELECTRICITY"

In addition to complaints which dealt with the manner in which price savings were highlighted, the Bord Gais complaints also concerned the use of the words "green electricity" in the Airtricity advertisement copy, and the claim that its offering was five times "more...

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