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Environmental Claims in Marketing

The Board of Business Practice (Liiketapalautakunta, LTL) of the Finland Chamber of Commerce published its recommendation on the use of environmental claims in marketing in January this year. The term ‘environmental claims’ refers to any claims in which, explicitly or implicitly, a reference is made to environmental aspects or, for example, climate change, relating to the production, packaging, distribution, consumption or disposal of products. In its recommendation, the LTL refers to the relevant sections of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Advertising and Marketing Communications Code (2018, Chapter D) concerning the use of environmental claims in marketing.

The environmental claims should only be used when the product or service in question has a true environmental effect. Furthermore, the claim must be communicated clearly. Vague, general or non-specific claims – such as ‘environmentally friendly,’ ‘ecologically safe,’ ‘carbon neutral,’ ‘fossil free,’ ‘climate friendly,’ ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ – should be avoided unless further explanations are provided or the claim is substantiated by sound evidence. Broader environmental claims are more difficult to substantiate. No references to ‘sustainability’ or ‘sustainable development’ should be made if there are no methods for measuring or proving this. In addition, high attention to marketing communication should be paid when it is directed to children. Claims directed to children or teens should not exploit the inexperience or credulity of them, and this applies to environmental claims, too.  

The LTL can be requested for an opinion as to whether or not an advertisement, including environmental claim(s), complies with the ICC rules. A competing business may request for an opinion on its competitor’s environmental claims. The Finland Chamber of Commerce Council of Ethics in Advertising (MEN) can also be requested for an opinion on whether an advertisement is ethically acceptable. It is good to keep in mind that the use of environmental claims, as well as the marketing in question, in its entirety, must be always assessed case-specifically based on the overall impression of it. This means that also, among others, texts and other features, colours, pictures, voice and lay-out are considered. Attention should be paid also to trademarks, being an important part of the business’s marketing, since trademarks may also contain or carry an impression of an environmental claim. The LTL has previously deemed environmental claims, such as ‘100 % fossil free’, ‘degradable’ and ‘compostable’ to be incompliant with the ICC rules. The MEN has, for its part, stated that it is unethical to misuse climate anxiety in children in an advertisement.

Hanna-Maija Elo

Partner, Attorney-at-Law, trained on the bench, trademark attorney

+358 40 561 4961