Official guide on green claims

Guidelines on how companies can make non-advertising environmental claims have been issued by the Department of Trade and Industry.

The guidelines were prepared by an ad hoc committee set up by Government in January 1992 to monitor "green" claims in non-advertising media. One of the committee's tasks was to publish reports of its scrutiny activities, but more than two years later none has yet materialised.

Environmental claims in advertising are already covered by non-statutory controls operated by the Advertising Standards Authority and its counterparts in the TV and radio world. The new guidelines deal with claims made in other media, such as corporate promotions, environmental reports, educational literature, news releases and the like.

The guidelines contain eight broad principles. These range from the very general - such as that firms should "exercise a high degree of integrity" in making environmental claims - to the more specific. Companies are urged, for example, to ensure that environmental claims "are fully and demonstrably substantiated before they are used".

An important principle laid down by the committee is that firms should avoid selectivity in presenting environmental information. This means, for example, that "if your company has many polluting plants, do not make statements about one particular model site in a way which would give rise to a misleading impression of the overall environmental performance of the company."

Disclosures in environmental reports should also give a "rounded picture" of a company's environmental performance. And firms should not seek to create a positive environmental image by publicising their sponsorship of environmental causes "in such a way that this gives an unwarranted impression of [their] concern for the environment or of the environmental impact of its products, services or activities."

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