Sustainable development, advertising and greenwashing – The Italian point of view


The fight against climate change is a major issue for the industry.

Companies in the industrial sector are aware of the increased sensitivity of consumers to sustainability since the environmental impact of their products is one of the key factors influencing business choices and purchasing decisions. However, due to the growing importance of the criteria according to which a product can be considered “sustainable”, advertising messages highlighting the environmental virtues of a product in order to make it more attractive must be formulated in such a way as to ensure consumer protection.

The Italian Institute for Advertising Self-Regulation (Istituto di Autodisciplina Pubblicitaria – IAP), as the regulatory body of the entire advertising industry, has tackled the issue of advertising communications regarding the protection of natural environment, by introducing into its own regulatory code a rule that commercial communications claiming or suggesting environmental or ecological benefits must be based on truthful, relevant and scientifically verifiable evidence and must allow a clear understanding of the characteristics of the product or service advertised, to which the claimed benefits refer.

When advertising their products, companies often use terms such as “sustainable”, “green”, “environmentally friendly” or “no impact” in an attempt to attract the attention of concerned consumers. sustainability. Greenwashing (that is to say the marketing strategy consisting in giving an ecologically positive image to a company or a product even in the absence of objective criteria or reliable or verifiable scientific data) is an example of misleading advertising that can lead to sanctions.

Large companies operating in the consumer products sector are tightly regulated. The Italian Competition Authority (Autorità Garante per la Concorrenza ed il Mercato – AGCM) plays a key role in protecting consumers from misleading advertising in messages promoting the environmental virtues of products which are in fact highly unsustainable.

Some notable decisions involved mineral water companies pitching their products as environmentally sustainable by using what they claimed to be better performing bottling materials (for example, those with less plastics) and hence amounts of energy. lower in the production of these materials. However, insufficient evidence of the reliability and veracity of the advertisements led AGCM to declare the claims to be misleading.

Another important case in terms of the fine imposed (5 million euros) concerned a multinational company involved in the production of fuel which had published an advertisement claiming the positive environmental impact of a certain type of fuel due to its characteristics. , fuel savings and reduced gas emissions. The AGCM concluded that these allegations were unfounded.

In order to avoid the deceptive effects of Greenwashing practices, advertising communications must be objectively verifiable or validated by independent third parties. Any advertising about the sustainability of a product must be appropriate and correct as eradicating greenwashing is an important part of the global response to the current climate emergency.

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