France clamps down on 'zero carbon' advertising to avoid greenwashing

·3-min read

From 1 January 2023, it will be forbidden to advertise a product in France as "carbon neutral" without being able to prove it. The government is taking steps to ensure all companies back up their claims with data, or promise compensation in favour of the environment.

As president Emmanuel Macron seeks another term, he is keen to show that his five years in office have kept the environment firmly in sight.

As part of its climate and resilience law, the government on Thursday published a decree concerning the rules for publicity in relation to carbon compensation.

It stipulates that, from next year, it will be forbidden to advertise products as "carbon neutral" without having a document to support the claim. This will apply ads on the internet, on television and to posters.

Companies will be required to provide information on their carbon emissions related to products or services, from the initial manufacture, through to the removal of the product or its eventual transformation through recycling.

This document – published on the company or service website with a QR code – must be accompanied by a clear strategy to avoid green house gas emissions, and failing that, to reduce them or compensate for them.

Counter 'greenwashing'

The decree is designed to "promote transparency with regards to the public and prevent the effect of "greenwashing", the government said in the report on its public consultation in January.

However, the initiative has been criticised by NGOs like the CLCV consumer protection group, who say the text isn't "ambitious" enough.

"Putting a QR code leading to a website is not sufficient. The measures for compensation must be explicitly referred to on the same piece of advertising, and mention that all products produce green house gas emissions.

"Otherwise, it could be misinterpreted by the public who will think that the product in question won't have any impact on the climate," Lisa Faulet, scientific spokesperson for CLCV told AFP.

The climate and resilience law stems from a series of easures put forward in the Citizens' Climate Convention (CCC). The original objective was to "forbid in any form of advertising a mention of products known to have a negative effect on the environment."

The watered down version was slammed by the CCC during a vote held on how well the government had transposed the Convention's proposals into law. It was only given a 2.6 out of 10 score in terms of meeting the desired objective.

It also provoked an angry reaction from the advertising industry.

Before the measure became law, several NGOs had already undertaken legal action to tackle the question of "green" promises in advertising.

At the beginning of March, Greenpeace France, les Amis de la Terre France (Friends of the Earth) and Notre Affaire à Tous (Everybody's Business), had filed a complaint against TotalEnergies for "deceptive commercial practices", pointing the finger at its ambition to become carbon neutral by 2050, and the presentation of gas as the "cleanest" form of fossil fuel.

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