Belinda Noble (pictued), founder and president of Comms Declare, has blasted the Environmental Claims Code Exposure Draft released by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), saying it is further proof that self-regulation of the industry hasn’t worked and will not work in the future.
The Exposure Draft was released last week for further public consultation by the AANA and included some big changes to existing rules, such as expanding the rules’ scope to cover businesses and entire industries, rather than just products and noting that omitting evidence is still misleading. However, in Noble’s mind, the changes did not go far enough and the current self-regulation framework lacks the bite required to make lasting change.
“After the hottest year on record, it falls short of protecting Australians from industries that profit from reckless greenhouse gas pollution,” she told B&T.
“While they have made some very notable improvements in the code, what they haven’t done is change the way it works. They’re still using the Community Panel, there are no subject matter experts and no independent fact-checking”.
Speaking to B&T, AANA CEO Josh Faulks said, “The reason we don’t need experts [on the Panel] is that the experts set the standards and make sure they align with international best practices. But then to interpret whether they align with community expectations, it’s good to have the Panel”.
Noble also took aim at the draft Code continuing to allow advertisers to use carbon offsets as proof of their action on emission reduction. While it currently stipulates that “Scientific claims should be consistent with the body of evidence” and “where the scientific basis for a claim is under dispute or not conclusive, advertisers should not present the claim as being universally accepted,” Noble said that this was not enough.
“The UN Task Force on reducing bogus net zero claims said that any company which is working towards net zero cannot rely on offsets and needs to have plans in line with the Paris Agreement. We’ve fallen well short of the UN guidance to stop bogus net zero claims,” she said.
“The code could also be applied to the overall environmental footprint of a company or the full lifecycle of a product… If it was a bit more rigorous, perhaps they wouldn’t have to mention Net Zero specifically”.
Faulks said that feedback on the finer points exposure draft was welcome from organisations including Comms Declare.
“The purpose of reviewing the Code, as we do with all our Codes, is to ensure they align with community expectations and international best practice,” he added.
However, Noble reserved her greatest ire for the self-regulatory system altogether, saying that it was not up to the task of regulating greenwashing.
“Self-regulation doesn’t and hasn’t worked. It is not specific or robust enough to stamp out greenwashing. The Community Panel is too slow, it lacks teeth, and there are no penalties. It needs to be overhauled if self-regulation is going to be effective,” she said.
“There need to be independent subject matter experts that can actually fact-check claims because it is exceptionally complex and changing all the time. It’s absolutely unreasonable to think that an ordinary community member would be able to decipher all this stuff.
“But at the end of the day, only laws that prevent fossil fuel companies making green claims or using green imagery will stop greenwashing”.
Faulks, however, said, “The broad consensus is that the advertising self-regulation system has served the community well for more than 25 years. Complaints about environmental claims can be made by anyone at any time and they are judged by the community in a world-class independent complaints handling system. It’s completely independent of and not affiliated with the advertising industry in any way.
“We’re looking to make a strong stand against greenwashing and the industry wants to stamp it out. It doesn’t help those advertisers and businesses that are doing a good job and should be able to talk about it. If we want a sustainable future, we should be talking about it. The alternative is greenhushing, where businesses are scared or concerned about putting their heads above the parapet which hurts the cause in the long run”.
The AANA is receiving feedback on the Exposure Draft, which will inform a new Environmental Claims Code. Interested parties have until 5pm on Friday 22 March 2024 to submit comments.
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