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Guidance on Greenwash Regulation: Media Bounty talks to the ASA

Harriet Kingaby and Guy Parker at Media Bounty's latest event

Featured press: first published by Creativebrief.

We’re in the midst of a global greenwash crackdown. 

From the EU’s green claims directive to the ASA’s updated guidance, we’re seeing a wave of new anti-greenwash legislation come into force and a steep increase in the consequences for crossing them. 

Paired with consumers demanding accountability, and an unfolding climate crisis, It’s never been more important for brands to speak up about sustainability – and there’s never been more pressure to get it right.  

Media Bounty experts, Harriet Kingaby and Jake Dubbins sat down with Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the Advertising Standards Association, to discuss how brands can best negotiate new greenwashing regulations: the threats, the opportunities and adapting for success. We’re sharing the key takeaways. 

1. These regulations have teeth  

These new legislations pack a punch.

In the UK, big companies could face penalties of up to 10% of global turnover, and individual fines of up to £300,000. 

Across the channel, companies could be fined at least 4% of their annual turnover, face confiscation of revenue gained from related products, be banned from access to public funding, and face up to 12-months of exclusion from public procurement processes.

Whilst some hail the shift as an end to the golden age of greenwash, some are concerned that this will usher in a new era of greenhushing

Alicia Upton, Marketing Executive, Media Bounty

And beyond the bank, there’s damage you can’t always quantify. In an increasingly unforgiving consumer climate, a greenwash allegation can seriously damage your brands reputation. 

2. There’s no need to greenhush

Responses to the changes have been mixed. Whilst some hail the shift as an end to the golden age of greenwash, some are concerned that this will usher in a new era of greenhushing. 

Greenhushing is the practice of hiding or underreporting on sustainability efforts for fear of scrutiny. And with the seriousness of the new regulations, it’s a legitimate concern. 

But there’s no need to throw your green comms plan in the bin (or in this case, the recycling). While this regulation might be sweeping, there is still a huge space to play in.

3. There’s a huge opportunity here

This year at Media Bounty, we launched our research into ‘The Persuadables’. These consumers aren’t ethical consumers, or climate deniers – they’re those in between. They care about the climate but they’re yet to start shopping sustainably. Why? Right now, green comms just isn’t engaging them. 

This group presents a huge commercial opportunity. And the legislation provides the perfect framework for connecting with them. 

No more “net-zero”, or “climate positive”? No problem. They’re confused and alienated by these woolly or over-scientific terms.

Time to introduce some balance to your ads? Great! Decades of greenwash have eroded trust, and honesty is the key to unlocking loyalty. 

As the greenwash clears, there’ll be a real opportunity for brands in this space to stand out and engage this group.

4. It’s a call to get creative

Throwing a couple of wind turbines, some vibrant greenery, or a cute fluffy polar bear on an ad has become an established way to let the world know your brand really cares.  

But these tropes are tired. They’ve passed the point of genuine meaning and are now as pointless as a wind-powered oil rig. And if we’re being honest, they’re a bit of a cop-out. 

Creativity craves challenge. These new guidelines are a provocation to create something different – something that challenges the sector’s norms. Something that will make your brand stand out. 

5. It’s time to bring in balance

The ASA’s guidance is world leading in its call for balance. High carbon businesses can no longer just spotlight their ESG commitments and sit back. It’s time  to embrace radical transparency. 

There’s some nuance here – there’s no need for a 500-word disclaimer on every ad. It’s about creating ads that holistically represents where your brand sits on its ethical journey. 

Still struggling to ensure ethical transparency across your supply chain? Maybe don’t build a campaign around your one B Corp supplier. 

If you’re a travel company that encourages rail, air and ocean travel, make sure all 3 are represented. 

It might seem scary, but consumers are tired of being lied to. This radical transparency is the key to re-building the trust greenwash has chipped away.   

6. We can expect more changes in the future

One thing was clear – we can expect to see more action against greenwash in the future. Advertising authorities across the globe are working to bring adland’s work into alignment with a liveable future. 

One topic soon to come under the ASA’s spotlight is advertising’s contribution to unsustainable consumption – which has been calculated as equal to adding 32% to the carbon footprint of every single person in the UK

For marketers, this instability can be scary. But if the progress of the EU’s green claims directive can teach us anything, it’s that this sweeping legislation is unlikely to happen overnight. 

It’s important to remember that these regulations are designed to catch out the big polluters. So if you’re not trading in fossil fuels or pedalling fast fashion – stay aware but don’t lose too much sleep. 

We recommend brands stay informed – the ASA’s newsletter is a great resource for those looking to keep abreast of any new changes. The ASA’s copy advice service is a brilliant resource for those in need of specific guidance. 

Finding trusted partners with real understanding in this space can also help you stay on the right side of these new regulations, and an independent third party can be a real ally in communicating these changes across your team. 

If you’re keen to learn more about the topics discussed, get in touch with the Media Bounty team.  


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