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ASA To Step Up Deployment Of AI Technology To Monitor Greenwashing

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is to harness  AI to combat greenwashing: strengthening oversight on environmental claims Greenwashing, as defined in the “Sins of Greenwashing” report,… View Article

COMMENTARY

ASA To Step Up Deployment Of AI Technology To Monitor Greenwashing

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is to harness  AI to combat greenwashing: strengthening oversight on environmental claims

Greenwashing, as defined in the “Sins of Greenwashing” report, involves deceiving consumers about a company’s environmental practices or the eco-friendliness of its products or services.

Often, disagreements arise over varying interpretations of what constitutes “sustainability.” According to RepRisk’s findings from September 2022 to September 2023, one in four climate-related Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) risk incidents involved greenwashing, marking an increase from one in five in the previous report.

The prevalence of greenwashing poses risks across industries and regions, affecting companies, employees, and communities. Misleading communications on environmental and social matters hinder progress toward collective goals and erode trust with consumers and investors.

To address this issue and comply with emerging regulations, accurate outside-in data, surpassing mere company self-reporting, becomes crucial. The past year witnessed significant greenwashing scandals, with H&M, for instance, facing criticism for allegedly misleading customers through an environmental scorecard system, resulting in detrimental impacts on reputation and finances.

ASA To Step Up Deployment Of AI Technology To Monitor Greenwashing

Law firm, Irwin Mitchell, is alerting businesses to the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) plans to strengthen its efforts in tackling greenwashing and unfounded environmental claims in advertising.

The ASA is set to enhance its capabilities by deploying AI technology, with the aim of monitoring 10 million adverts next year.

Recognising the importance of addressing misleading advertising practices, the ASA’s Climate Change and the Environment project, launched in 2021, has identified priority areas for carbon reduction and consumer behaviour change, as outlined by the UK’s Climate Change Committee.

Among these areas, the ASA has identified the green disposal of products and the accuracy of claims regarding this.

Based on recent qualitative consumer research conducted by the ASA, the following findings shed light on consumer attitudes towards green disposal claims:

  1. Consumers actively engage in green disposal practices at home, primarily through regular recycling collections, perceiving it as a means of contributing to environmental conservation.
  2. Participants expressed reluctance to extend their green disposal efforts beyond their homes, emphasizing the responsibility businesses bear in ensuring sustainable waste management.
  3. Consumers tend to accept green claims in advertisements without questioning their validity, potentially leading to an oversimplified understanding of the terms used and the actual waste disposal processes.
  4. Terms such as ‘recycling’ and ‘recycled’ are well understood, but confusion arises regarding ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’, with frustration mounting upon discovering that ‘biodegradable’ lacks a specific timescale and certain products can release toxins during degradation.
  5. Consumers demand greater transparency regarding the degradation period of ‘biodegradable’ products and specific disposal risks associated with them.
  6. Participants emphasized the importance of clear information on the disposal of product parts and the responsible disposal locations for these products.

The ASA has now updated its Committee of Advertising Practice guidance to reflect the latest research.

On compostable and biodegradable products, the guidelines now state that: “Claims are more likely to comply if they are clearly qualified with information about how long it takes for a product to fully biodegrade or compost.”

The ASA will give companies until April 2024 to take on board the guidelines.

The ASA expects to deploy AI technology increasingly in this area, aiming to monitor a significantly larger number of adverts next year. This technological advancement will enable the ASA to identify and take action against businesses making misleading environmental claims.

Jill Crawford, an environmental lawyer from Irwin Mitchell, commented: “The ASA’s commitment to using AI technology to crack down on greenwashing is a crucial step towards ensuring transparency and accuracy in advertising. Businesses must take note and ensure that their environmental claims are substantiated and reliable. Failure to do so may result in regulatory action and damage to their reputation.”

 

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