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Wendy Reed
Wendy Reed

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Trendsetters: GALA Defines How 43 Countries Manage Green or Eco-Friendly Advertising Claims

Many marketers today are putting a new emphasis on the efficiency and cost savings their “greener” products bring consumers, as opposed to simply how they help the environment. The Global Advertising Lawyers Alliance (GALA) has released Green Marketing: A Global Legal Perspective, a unique survey of 43 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa that highlights many of the new “green” guidelines now developing around the world as different nations attempt to rein in unsupported claims.

The findings underscore a worldwide trend toward increased regulation of product marketing on the basis of “green” or “eco-friendly” attributes.

"Claims for 'greener' products continue to be scrutinized and challenged, though," said Wendy Reed of GALA-member firm Heenan Blaikie LLP, who designed the survey and tabulated the responses. "Because the rules governing these claims vary from country to country, we hope this survey will help fill the information gap and become a valuable resource for marketers everywhere.”

Ms. Reed’s immediate advice to marketers: “Do not assume that that the rules and the way green claims can be challenged are the same around the world. It’s also important to know that a lot of terms, like ‘degradable’ and ‘compostable,’ along with many others, can trigger specific requirements you may not have realized. So companies should be checking with local counsel. A good common approach – as a starting point – is to be serious about carefully substantiating any green claim, making specific and precise claims instead of simply general ones and being transparent about the support you’re relying on for your claim.”

Key Green Marketing findings:

  • The green claims that drew the greatest attention or controversy were: “environmentally friendly,” “natural,” and “biodegradable.”
  • The most-regulated claim is: “organic.”
  • Twenty-seven of the 43 countries surveyed require labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMO).
  • Among the countries surveyed, Australia, Costa Rica, Denmark, New Zealand, the UK and the US have introduced or enhanced their green marketing guidelines in the past three years
  • Some of the more active countries were the UK, with well over 100 challenges to green claims over the past three years, France with 54, Belgium with 50, Brazil with 33 and South Africa with 19.
  • Thirty-four countries reported regulations requiring companies to include environmental disclosures in their advertisements and labels for certain products.

Overall, the survey found that 54% of the countries surveyed had legal or self-regulatory challenges to “green” claims and 15% released new green advertising rules. The 300-page survey covered the period January 2010 through mid-2013. Two previous GALA surveys were released in 2009 and 2010.

The survey can be DOWNLOADED HERE:

We also asked Heenan Blaikie’s Wendy Reed if any specific green guidelines from a particular country struck her as eye-opening or remarkable in some way.

Her response: “Some guidelines can be frighteningly broad when read literally, so it’s important to get local advice as to how they would likely be interpreted in real life. For example, the Polish Law on Environment Protection says that promotion of goods or services can’t include any content ‘promoting a pattern of consumption contrary to the principles of environmental protection and sustainable development.’ Theoretically, trying to get consumers to buy more items than they need could breach this law – like supermarkets that encourage multiple purchases of produce when research shows that a huge proportion of such food is thrown out. You really need local advice to find out how provisions like this will really be applied.

For another example, some guidelines can be very strict. Norway’s rules specifically prohibit any advertising for cars that calls them ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ – even if the ads qualify what they mean by ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ (e.g. having reduced carbon emissions, etc.).

When asked if she sensed any emergent global trends that were unexpected or found any surprising similarities across certain regions or sub-regions, she answered:

“It is interesting to see how many countries have embraced the demanding concept of requiring life cycle analysis for general green claims. That’s a very ‘let’s get real’ requirement. To illustrate, marketers have often touted one particular improvement (e.g. ‘Eco-friendly. Now made with 20% recycled material’) when another aspect of the change (e.g. the recycled material is now shipped in from across the world, thus increasing carbon emissions) means that the net impact is more environmental harm. Before, the marketer might not have really thought about the incidental negative impacts, never mind measured them, and others wouldn’t have examined the claim so closely. This – along with the basic fact that specific green guidelines are being introduced around the world - means that the ‘loosey goosey’ day of green claims has entered a more serious phase of scrutiny.”

Wendy S. Reed co-chairs the firm’s Marketing and Advertising Law group and has practiced exclusively in this area for over 25 years. Her clients include major marketers of a wide variety of goods and services, as well as agencies and direct marketing businesses.