Jan 7, 2023
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France tightens ad rules to take aim at 'greenwashing'

Jan 7, 2023

New advertising rules in France will make it more difficult for firms to claim that their products and services are "carbon neutral", as experts push for stronger international regulation to tackle company greenwashing. 

The measures, which came into force on January 1, come after United Nations experts issued a raft of new guidelines aimed at drawing a "red line" around bogus net zero claims.

The French government has said the goal is to provide transparent information for the public, to "progressively strengthen the commitments of advertisers" and to combat "greenwashing".

The new rules mean that if a product is advertised as having net zero emissions, then the company will need to provide annual details of all the carbon pollution associated with that product's entire life cycle, from production to disposal or recycling.

It must explain how greenhouse gas emissions will be avoided as a priority, then reduced and finally "offset".

Advertising or packaging bearing the claim of carbon neutrality must also include a link to a website detailing the climate plan. 

But observers warn that companies still have too much room to make misleading environmental statements in their advertising. 

"This type of claim should simply be banned," said Anne Bringault of the Climate Action Network (CAN). 

The new recommendations from UN experts, published in November at the COP27 talks in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh, say firms cannot claim to be net-zero if they invest in new fossil fuels, cause deforestation or offset emissions with carbon credits instead of reducing them.

UN chief Antonio Guterres has called for net-zero pledges to be updated within a year to meet the criteria.

In November, French climate activists from the association Notre Affaire A Tous said they had filed complaints with advertising regulators in several European countries over claims that the football World Cup in Qatar would be carbon neutral.

Also last year, Britain's Advertising Standards Authority hit out at HSBC for adverts promoting its green initiatives that failed to highlight the bank's contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and banned further use of the posters.

Britain's financial watchdog has also proposed toughening regulations of environmental claims, including of investment product sustainability labels and restrictions on terms such as "green", "sustainable" and "ESG" (environmental, social, and governance).

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