Consumers are increasingly seeking out products and services that align with their desire to make eco-friendly choices. As some companies take steps to capitalise on environmental awareness, a practice known as "greenwashing" has emerged.
Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term "greenwashing" in a 1986 critical essay inspired by the irony of the "save the towel" movement in hotels that had little impact beyond saving hotels money in laundry costs. "Greenwashing" refers to the practice of:
presenting a product, brand or institution as if it is environmentally friendly;
making misleading ads with unfounded environmental claims; and
including these claims in marketing material or on product packaging.
The rise of greenwashing poses a significant challenge to a transparent and accountable marketplace in which consumers can make informed decisions. While it is true that consumers play a vital role in the fight against greenwashing, regulatory bodies and businesses must also take action.
Misleading advertising regulation
In Turkey, misleading ads are regulated under the Regulation on Commercial Advertising and Unfair Commercial Practices. The regulation forbids ads that contain expressions or images which may directly or indirectly mislead consumers on any subject. It specifically refers to "information on environmental impact" as one of those subjects.
The regulation also provides that:
ads cannot be made in a way that exploits consumers' environmental awareness or possible lack of knowledge in this area;
environmental signs, symbols and approvals cannot be used in ads to deceive consumers;
only scientific findings and technical representations based on scientific studies accepted by academic institutions on environmental impact can be used in ads; and
in ads for goods that require energy labelling, if information on energy efficiency or price is included, the energy efficiency class of the relevant product must be specified.
The body authorised to regulate, investigate, audit and apply sanctions regarding commercial advertising in Turkey is the Advertisement Board. The board's aim is to protect and inform consumers against unfair commercial practices, one of which is greenwashing. At the beginning of 2023, the board published the Guideline on Environmental Claims in Advertisements (1) to inform individuals and institutions in advertising about how to ensure that environmental claims and images used in commercial ads are compliant. In addition to the regulation, this guideline includes information on the following with respect to ads that contain environmental claims:
certificates and permits;
claims regarding the degradability and recyclability of a product or its packaging;
claims regarding renewable energy; and
claims regarding water saving.
Energy saving device The board imposed an administrative fine on a company that was advertising an energy saving device and prevented the advertisement thereof (2). The energy rates could not be proven by scientific reports. Therefore, the board found that the ad deliberately misled consumers by misdirecting their economic interests.
Plant-based dishwasher tablet The board decided to prevent the advertisement of a dishwasher tablet product (3). The following statements, used in the ad, could not be proven:
"100% Plant Based";
"Consists of 100% natural and ecological components";
"Does not contain Paraben, Phosphate, Perfume, Gluten Dye SLES, GMO, Chlorine, Ammonia";
"Does not contain animal and chemical ingredients";
"Not tested on animals"; and
"Has a Hypoallergenic test".
Electronic scooter The board sanctioned a company for using the phrase "saved CO2 emissions equivalent to 250 thousand trees" in an ad for an electronic scooter. The company was unable to prove the veracity of that statement (4).
Electronic marketplace The board sanctioned a company for using the phrase "all purchased products are delivered in 100% eco-friendly renewable cardboard packaging" in an ad for an electronic marketplace (5). The company was unable to prove the veracity of that statement.
Turkey has clear regulations and an authorised body to fight against greenwashing and protect consumers. Companies must comply with the regulations and be transparent and able to support their environmental claims to avoid facing administrative fines and sanctions.
(1) Decision No. 2022/2.
(2) Decision No. 2010/1162.
(3) Decision No. 2021/2343.
(4) Decision No. 2022/1641.
(5) Decision No. 2022/2593.
Authors: Burak Özdağıstanli, Sümeyye Uçar, Ebru Gümüş