One of the highlights of 2021 has been the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, which were the more welcome for the wait. For a world of accelerating climate change, the 2020 Olympics again focused heavily on sustainability. The Olympic torch was fuelled by hydrogen. The Olympic medals were made of recycled metals extracted from used electronics. The podiums constructed from recycled plastic. The beds in the athlete’s village were cardboard, and apparently very sturdy! The promise of sustainability has been a core part of the Olympic tradition since at least the “green” and gold Olympics in Sydney in 2000 and where hosting rights were won in part because of the ‘environmental matters’ which underscored the host city bid. Not long after Sydney’s successful bid in 1993, the International Olympic Committee adopted as its third tier, after sport and culture, environment and sustainability. The pursuit of these objectives now forms a core part of host city pitches. Brisbane’s successful 2032 Summer Games bid had at its core financial and environmental sustainability and a promise of a ‘climate positive’ Games. And it’s not just host cities who are pushing the mission of sustainability. Olympic sponsors too are keen to share their ‘green’ credentials, with Woolworths using its Olympic advertising blitz to promote its commitment to 100% green energy by 2025.
This focus on sustainability recognises the importance of a soft environmental footprint to consumers, and therefore to advertisers. However, the consumer appeal of ecological claims depends on those claims being genuine and verifiable. While unscrupulous traders may indulge in “greenwashing” and false claims regarding the environmental impacts of their goods and services, they are ‘playing’ a risky strategy. A range of legal measures protect consumers against misleading and deceptive conduct such as false sustainability claims. Government regulators also have the power to pursue such conduct. Accordingly, false sustainability claims carry an inherent risk. But perhaps more importantly, they reduce consumer confidence in sustainability claims. Traders wanting to emphasise the sustainability of their goods or services therefore need to consider not only the most effective promotional strategy for their chosen message, but also the most effective way of verifying those claims for consumers.
Some tips for making meaningful and low-risk green claims in advertising and branding are as follows:
- Ensure green claims are correct and not likely to be misleading. Take particular care with claims that involve a comparison with a third party product, and ensure that the basis for the comparison is clear and fair;
- Consider whether registering your mark may provide a competitive advantage;
- Look at options for external verification of green claims, including providing references where appropriate (this can be seen in the fine print after many green advertisements);
- Review applicable industry certification schemes and whether they may provide verification and credibility – if no schemes exist, consider whether introducing a new scheme may be a helpful measure.
These kinds of strategies help to ensure that “green” claims are not only meaningful, but recognised by consumers as such and therefore impactful – a gold medal effort for all.
This article forms part of DCC’s Sustainability and IP initiative.