WFA issues first ever global guidance for brands on environmental claims

Eco gudiance from WFA - Image by NiklasPntk from Pixabay

The World Federation of Advertisers, WFA, has issued the first ever guidance on how brands can make sure environmental claims featured in their marketing communications are credible for both consumers and regulators at its Global Marketer Week in Athens.

WFA eco guidance

The Global Guidance on Environmental Claims identifies six key principles that marketers need to follow to make sure they are seen as trustworthy and to avoid their brands being accused of greenwashing.

The goal is to provide marketers with a clear set of rules to follow when they decide to communicate the actions that their company is taking to drive more sustainable outcomes. 

By detailing both the principles and global best practice, it will help brands ensure that environmental claims are credible to consumers and can be backed up if they are challenged.

Ensuring environmental claims are credible is a key commitment of the WFA Planet Pledge, which is celebrating its first anniversary with new member Arla taking the total number of pledge signatories to 27 companies, which represent close to $50bn in cumulative global marketing spend.

In addition, the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) has also signed up as the latest of 27 national associations who commit to driving support from local brands to reduce their climate impact with best practice advice. 

wfa global guidance
First of its kind: WFA guidance is the first global effort addressing brands’ claims.

The combined national advertiser associations now cover markets representing over $205bn in total ad spend.

To develop the guidance, WFA commissioned the International Council for Advertising Self-Regulation (ICAS) and the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) with the support of environmental experts from the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). 

There was a peer review process from a number of advertising standards bodies from around the world with expertise on green claims, including bodies from Australia, Brazil, France, India, Spain, Sweden and the US.

The guidance was also reviewed by the corporate members of the WFA Planet Pledge, the European and global agencies’ associations, EACA and Voxcomm. 

It therefore represents a consensus across the global industry and industry regulators of what the core elements are to ensuring trustworthy and meaningful environmental claims.

Key legislation, self-regulatory codes and other relevant industry codes (for example, Chapter D of the International Chamber of Commerce’s Advertising and Marketing Communications Code, which deals with environmental claims) have been reviewed and taken into consideration in producing the guidance. 

Although the guidance is not legally-binding, if the six principles are clearly followed, it is likely that any environmental claims made in marketing communications will not be misleading.

Ultimately, WFA plans to turn the guidance into an online e-learning tool to help Planet Pledge signatories and, in time, the broader industry navigate this increasingly scrutinised space and avoid potential accusations of greenwashing.

The report identifies six core principles that brands need to follow:

  1. Principle 1: Claims must not be likely to mislead, and the basis for them must be clear.
  2. Principle 2: Marketers must hold robust evidence for all claims likely to be regarded as objective and capable of substantiation.
  3. Principle 3: Marketing communications must not omit material information. Where time or space is limited, marketers must use alternative means to make qualifying information readily accessible to the audience and indicate where it can be accessed.
  4. Principle 4: Marketers must base general environmental claims on the full lifecycle of their product or business, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the lifecycle.
  5. Principle 5: Products compared in marketing communications must meet the same needs or be intended for the same purpose. The basis for comparisons must be clear and allow the audience to make an informed decision about the products compared.
  6. Principle 6: Marketers must include all information relating to the environmental impact of advertised products that is required by law, regulators or Codes to which they are signatories.

The report is being published as new WFA research identifies the efforts that Planet Pledge signatories are putting into ensuring that they avoid so-called ‘greenwashing’.

The research is based on responses from 15 Planet Pledge signatories and represents part of their commitment to conducting annual monitoring.

Key findings include:

  • 64% of signatories now have ethical standards in place to ensure green claims are credible with a further 27% awaiting the WFA’s new guide.
  • Every single respondent is now checking green claims in marketing with their sustainability team who have to sign off any claims, in addition to ensuring legal sign off. 80% also run such claims past public affairs practitioners.
  • 27% of respondents also work with independent third parties on climate change marketing all of the time, with a further 55% sometimes seeking external input and validation for their messages.
  • 72% of respondents would welcome greater regulation of environmental claims. Only one company responded they would be resistant to regulation in this space.
  • More than 90% of respondents had started to educate their marketing teams in relation to marketing and sustainability
  • 62% have already asked their marketing supply chain to join Race to Net Zero as part of their efforts to promote more eco-friendly business practices.

“Current consumer scepticism in environmental claims and marketers’ fear of greenwashing are together the biggest obstacles to our industry being part of the solution to the climate crisis,” said WFA CEO, Stephan Loerke. 

“Big reductions in CO2 emissions have occurred on the back of technology and innovation; the next big advance needs to be driven by behavioural change. This is where marketers can help. 

“This guidance is an essential first step to creating an environment where marketers and consumers can feel more confident about companies’ sustainability credentials”

The Global Guidance on Environmental Claims is available to the whole industry at