Back to Homepage


Greenwashing is advertising that carries misleading environmental claims, and it is a serious issue. An issue that could damage public trust in the genuine sustainable claims that brands make. It is essential that, as an industry, we promote our clients in totally open, honest, and transparent ways so that we can preserve the public’s trust in our work. Greenwashing not only erodes trust towards advertising (thus, reducing overall advertising effectiveness) but could even discourage companies from promoting their green initiatives, in fear of being labelled ‘greenwashers’. This is a topic that we need to get right.

As we will explore further in this book, sustainability can deliver significant commercial value. It might be tempting to overstate claims in advertising or marketing, and it could be easy for a business to fall into the trap of green washing, at the expense of integrating sustainable change into their strategies and throughout their operations. An advertising professional could be encouraged to support or even enhance these claims to achieve better sales results.

Greenwashing may be unintentional or well-meaning – a misunderstanding of sustainability, for example, caused by a disconnect (or lack of integration) between the sustainability and marketing departments in a business. Or it can be intentional – overstating sustainability credentials to win business or to divert attention from bigger environmental damage.  While intentional greenwashing is clearly more unethical than accidental, the aim of our industry must be to eradicate greenwashing in all its forms; from the audience perspective, a misleading advert is a misleading advert whether intentional or not.  

Whatever the motivation, as we all strive to play our part in the net zero transition, and as the regulatory framework around advertising sustainable products and services becomes more rigorous, everyone must up their game to eradicate misleading environmental claims.  

Given the scrutiny of our industry around the issue of global warming and in a world where customers increasingly demand transparency and environmental responsibility from brands, being challenged on environmental claims is inevitable. 

So, as a responsible advertiser or marketer, what do you do? The answer is that, when making environmental claims, you should prioritise efforts to ensure they are accurate, substantiated and contextualised in accordance with the rules.  

The role of the ASA 
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK’s advertising regulator, enforcing rules on the content, placement and targeting of advertisements. They represent the gold standard of advertising regulation worldwide. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is the ASA’s sister organisation. They write the rules that the ASA enforces, produce educational material to explain how the rules apply, and give free advice to advertisers about their copy.

The ASA exist to prevent misleading and irresponsible advertising such as greenwashing, and they do a fantastic job of doing just that. But agencies and production companies must act responsibly of their own accord, without the threat of fines, sanctions, and reputational damage. We don’t just want to be an industry that avoids scandal, but one that leads the way in the fight against climate change.

Matt can get frustrated with marketers who complain about getting caught out by the ASA. The self-regulatory body is there for good reason, and a particularly good one in the context of climate change. They are funded (just) by the industry to do an incredible job and they need everyone’s support. By support, he doesn’t just mean funding – he means properly understanding their guidance and, whatever your role in the advertisement’s production, making sure that it follows that guidance. If you don’t, you will get called out by someone who encounters that ad, it will be reviewed, and it will be highlighted publicly as an ad that wasn’t legal, decent, honest, or truthful within the realms of the rules and guidance the industry has set.

Excerpted from Sustainable Advertising by Matt Bourn and Sebastian Munden. Copyright © 2024. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.