Below is the introduction for the Consumer Policy Research Centre’s latest report ‘Seeing Green – prevalence of environmental claims on social media‘. The report itself can be found as a free PDF here and CPRC’s brief summary of the report can be found on their website here.
“Striving towards improved environmental outcomes is a worthy and common practice among businesses today. It is an aspect that consumers genuinely value as each of us aim to play a role in reducing waste and our own impact on the environment we live in. As a business pivots towards more environmentally friendly outcomes, it is natural that it would want to promote its efforts. After all, delivering better environmental outcomes through a product or service can be one of the many unique value propositions that sets a business apart from its competitors. However, what is being said in the name of marketing, and how easy is it for consumers to decipher between a genuine environmental claim and greenwashing?
This report aims to highlight the plethora of environmental claims that are made via social media advertising – a common avenue for consuming advertising of any form, including on environmental products and services. The analysis in this report is based on data collected by researchers working with the Australian Ad Observatory, a project of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S). For the purpose of this report we used the Ad Observatory to collate a dataset of social media ads that included environmental claims, consisting of 8,963 unique and separate ads which were observed more than 30,000 times in participants’ Facebook
feeds (‘the Australian Ad Observatory green ads collection’ or ‘green ads dataset’). This collection
of green ads highlights the diversity and frequency of green claims that a consumer experiences. The report does not intend to verify each of the claims nor analyse the accuracy of the claims. It is intended to highlight the volume and breadth of green claims that consumers experience through social media.
Through this analysis, it is clear that environmental terminology has no common meaning. Similar terms are used in a variety of ways. The same environmental term is used differently by multiple businesses with different meanings. Some social media ads provide succinct details to support an environmental claim, while in other ads it is difficult to ascertain the accuracy of the claim. Colour appears to play an integral role when combined with imagery through the use of green, blue and beige hues, implying an environmental benefit that may or may not exist.
The prevalence of emojis in social media advertising can exaggerate an environmental claim that may otherwise not exist. Emojis such as the Möbius loop ([the recycling triangle]) and nature symbols (leaves, Earth) were frequently identified across this advertising dataset. The Möbius loop is often used in ads of products and services that may or may not be recycled or made from recyclable materials. While an emoji may seem arbitrary in isolation, when used in conjunction with specific colours, imagery and environmental claims, it may imply an environmental outcome that may or may not be accurate.
The analysis highlights that regulation and guidance are needed to help achieve a shared understanding of common environmental claims that businesses are making. Other jurisdictions such as the European Union (EU) are proposing legislation to ban and define specific environmental claims so that when businesses make such claims, there is genuine weight and validity behind them. Australia could go a step further and ensure regulators have the power and tools to add to an evolving ‘blacklist’ of terms, which will assist many businesses that are legitimately transitioning towards more environmental processes, products and services.
Lastly, some high-polluting sectors and businesses should be prohibited from advertising any form of environmental claim since their business models and practices arguably contradict positive environmental contributions.
Australians deserve to see environmental claims they can trust, which can help them make meaningful choices towards better environmental outcomes, and it starts with advertising that is meaningful and evidence-based.”Text from the introduction of the ‘Seeing Green – prevalence of environmental claims on social media‘ report, p. 4 (4/11/2023).