In April 2024, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published research into environmental claims in food and drink advertising - Consumer Understanding of Environmental Claims in Food & Drink Advertising

The report follows an earlier investigation by the ASA from 2022 into consumer understanding of carbon neutral and net zero claims and terminology used in advertisements for electric and hybrid vehicles, and its announcement that it would commission research into the consumer understanding of two further areas: environmental claims used in food and drink advertisements and recycled, recyclable, biodegradable, compostable and other disposal claims (referred to as ‘green disposal claims’).

This latest report from the ASA represents a culmination of evidence from 60 in-depth interviews conducted amongst participants within the UK from diverse demographics, including vegans, vegetarians and individuals with meat-inclusive diets. The study was divided into two modules, with Module 1 exploring green disposal claims and Module 2 examining claims in food and drink advertisements. The report also looks at individual case studies of businesses, identifying where particular claims were deemed to be misleading. It was followed subsequently by a review by the ASA into the types of environmental claims currently being made in food advertising (utilising the ASA’s AI capabilities).

Key Findings from the research report

  • General attitudes towards climate change and environment. Participants acknowledged climate change as a critical societal issue, accepting it as a fact, as well as accepting a collective responsibility to tackle this issue.
  • Responsibility for tackling climate change. Participants saw the highest level of responsibility for tackling climate change as those ‘most guilty’ of high emissions, such as larger corporations with significant emissions. .
  • Unquestioning acceptance of environmental claims. Many participants simply assumed that businesses could not make environmental claims without significant evidence and verification, believing that advertising was highly monitored and regulated in the UK. They were therefore more likely to accept environmental claims and terminology at face value. This was particularly the case when advertisements involved statistics, facts or technical terms.
  • Nutritional claims provoked more discussion and challenge amongst consumers. Owing to the centrality of nutrition in making decisions to purchase food, nutritional claims drove consumer choice of product above any environmental impact of the product. In terms of reactions to food and drink advertising, nutritional claims or terminology could provoke challenge, whereas environmental claims and terminology tended to be accepted at face value, generating little discussion, unless seen as overly ‘preachy’ in tone. It was also noted that some environmental advertisements were perceived to berate participant lifestyle choices, such as the decision to consume meat generally, risking disengagement.
  • Accuracy of terminology. Participants assumed that all claims in advertising were subject to regulation, albeit that the degree of regulation would differ according to the terminology used. For example, specific terms like ‘plant-based’ and ‘vegan’ were assumed to be accurate and verifiable, whereas more uncertainty was given to claims such as ‘good for the planet’, with some concerns that this was unverifiable and therefore permissible without supporting evidence.
  • Associations within terminology or visual imagery. Concerns exist over a potential ‘halo effect’ that could be created through utilising certain terminology or imagery, implying attributes into products that had not been explicitly claimed in the first instance. For example, green, both as a colour and a word, was reported to be powerfully evocative of environmental and plant-based themes, signalling a brand’s environmentally conscious ethos without explicitly making any claim.

As a result of its research, the ASA has signalled that the case for regulation of environmental claims on food and drink is particularly strong with regards to:

  • Green visuals/imagery and terminology;
  • Comparative environmental impact claims, which would be ideally based on like-for-like comparative information across a given product lifecycle, including the supply chain and waste disposal (ideally on packaging or other point-of-purchase locations, such as on websites); and
  • Preachy’ ads, which many felt should be held to a higher status of accountability regarding the claims made, particularly in cases where the brand criticises a common lifestyle or diet.

As for the ASA’s review of food and drink advertisements, it found that, overwhelmingly, marketing messages corroborated what emerged out of the consumer research; tending to focus on taste, nutrition, and price.  There was some evidence of “sustainable” claims being used in different ways within the overall context of food production, occasionally unqualified, and in a way which had the potential to be misleading if presented in too absolute terms. Some (albeit limited) evidence of the emerging trend towards “regenerative farming” claims, as well as evidence of breaches of existing ASA precedent and Guidance, for instance in cases where advertisers are making comparative environmental impact claims without suitably qualifying the basis for those claims. 

Overall, the ASA’s research and review suggests that there are a few specific areas and issues which would benefit from further dialogue and consideration in the coming months but, in general, the ASA concluded that there was no widespread need for enforcement action to bring claims into compliance with the advertising rules.

As for next steps, the ASA plans to take forward the following in 2024:

  • continue its engagement with the CMA, Defra, and industry stakeholders on its findings. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) will also be providing further guidance to industry this summer in the form of a series of Insight Articles to be published on the ASA website;
  • from July 2024, the ASA and CAP proposes additional monitoring and follow-up engagement to address instances of clear-cut breaches of established positions already set down in existing ASA Rulings and Guidance, with the potential to formally investigate other, less clear-cut instances of non-compliant advertising within this sector, with a particular focus on unqualified sustainability and comparative environmental impact claims;
  • although the ASA’s review found little evidence of obviously problematic examples of ‘green’ or ‘natural’ imagery in the sample analysed, it will continue to monitor for potential misleading ‘green’ imagery issues in 2024, given the strong consumer research findings;
  • the ASA will engage with industry and other partners to better understand regenerative farming and thereafter produce guidance to assist businesses to make claims that are more likely to be compliant with the advertising rules; and 
  • continue to work in partnership with the Defra and the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) as they work with industry to gather information to inform their recommendations to the UK government that cover the label, methodology, data, and governance in preparation for consultation on a food eco-labelling scheme.

For further information on how regulators in the UK are regulating environmental claims and addressing greenwashing, please see our various articles on the topic How 'Green' are you? 'Greenwashing' claims scrutinised by regulators (, and Setting the standard: CMA concludes probe into fashion retailers 'Green' claims, Victoria Barnes ( or listen to our podcast.

If you want to hear more about how we can help you in these areas, please get in touch with Victoria Barnes, or click here to find out more about our environment team. Details of our food and drink expertise may be found here:

This article was drafted by Victoria Barnes, Abigail Jones and Victoria McCarron.