Social media ads are littered with ‘green’ claims. How are we supposed to know they’re true? | Tech News

Social media ads are littered with ‘green’ claims. How are we supposed to know they’re true?

Social platforms are awash with ads for so-called “green” products. Study found many green claims are vague.

By:PTI
| Updated on: Dec 03 2023, 06:51 IST
Top tech news of the week: Netflix layoffs, Facebook kills tool, phishing attacks, Apple Watch saves life, more
Social media
1/7 According to Bloomberg, Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company of Facebook, will soon scrap its social media fact checking tool called CrowdTangle. The tool is used to keep misinformation in check by researchers and analysts but reports suggest that Meta has been reducing the support for the product over the days. The company has not revealed its eventual plans with the tool. (Dado Ruvic/REUTERS)
Social media
2/7 In a fresh round of layoffs, Netflix has fired 300 employees across different departments, according to a report by Variety. The majority of the employees losing their jobs were based in the US. This layoff comes shortly after Netflix fired 150 employees in May. A spokesperson stated that the job cuts were done to bring down the cost to the slower revenue rate. (REUTERS)
Social media
3/7 Google has revealed in a report that an Italian company's hacking tools were used to spy on Apple and Android smartphones in Italy and Kazakhstan. According to the report, Milan-based RCS Lab developed tools to spy on private messages and contacts of the targeted devices. Google added that it had taken steps to protect users of its Android operating system and alerted them about the spyware. (Reuters)
Social media
4/7 A massive phishing scam, which was ongoing for a year, came to the surface after PIXM, an anti-phishing browser extension, exposed it. According to the report, a large number of malicious websites were masquerading as Facebook login pages and stealing the account information of victims and each such website had millions of visits. To make the websites look real, the scammers also added the victim’s name to the URL. (REUTERS)
Social media
5/7 According to TechCrunch, a Reddit post recently surfaced which highlighted that Microsoft was giving out Minecoins, a native currency of the popular sandbox-style game Minecraft, in order to sway Google Search and Google Chrome users to its rival platform. According to the post, Bing offered the gamers 330 Minecoins for searching with Microsoft Bing on the Edge browser for five days. (Hindustan Times)
Social media
6/7 Apple Watch has played a crucial role in saving the life of a woman swimmer who got trapped between rocks in the Columbia river. Stuck in the chilly river, she used the SOS feature of the Apple Watch to contact emergency services. The authorities were able to save the woman before hypothermia could set in due to her fast response time in sending the alert. (Reuters)
image caption
7/7 As a part of Instagram’s latest initiative of performing age verification, it is testing two new tools. The first is via video selfies through which the social media platform will run algorithms in collaboration with Yoti to verify the age. The other method will require three people over the age of 18 to confirm that the user’s age matches with what they have responded with. (Unsplash)
Social media
View all Images
Our study of more than 8,000 ads served more than 20,000 times in people’s Facebook feeds found many green claims are vague, meaningless or unsubstantiated and consumers are potentially being deceived. (Pexels)

Social platforms are awash with ads for so-called “green” products. Power companies are “carbon neutral”. Electronics are “for the planet”. Clothing is “circular” and travel is “sustainable”. Or are they? Our study of more than 8,000 ads served more than 20,000 times in people's Facebook feeds found many green claims are vague, meaningless or unsubstantiated and consumers are potentially being deceived.

This costs consumers, as products claiming to be greener are often more expensive. And it costs the planet, as false and exaggerated green claims – or “greenwashing” – make it seem more is being done to tackle climate change and other environmental crises than is really happening.

The widespread use of these claims could delay important action on tackling climate change, as it dilutes the sense of urgency around the issue.

The colours of environmental friendliness

Our research is part of a newly published report produced by the not-for-profit Consumer Policy Research Centre, researchers at Melbourne Law School and the Australian Ad Observatory, a project of ADM S (ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society).

The Ad Observatory captures ads from the personal Facebook feeds of around 2,000 people who “donate” their ads to the project via a browser plugin. This lets us analyse otherwise unobservable and ephemeral ads.

We found the most common claims were “clean”, “green” and “sustainable”. Other popular terms were “bio”, “recycled” or “recyclable”, “pure” and “eco-friendly”, often with no explanation of what lay behind them. All are very general, undefined terms, yet they imply a more environmentally responsible choice.

Our report didn't verify each claim nor analysed their accuracy. We intended to highlight the volume and breadth of the green claims consumers see in social media ads.

Many ads used colours and symbols to put a green “halo” around their products and business. These included green, blue and earthy beige tones, background nature imagery and emojis featuring leaves, planet Earth, the recycling symbol and the green tick, often with no context or specific information.

The top five sectors making green claims were energy, household products, fashion, health and personal care, and travel.

This was consistent with a recent internet sweep by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which found 57% of the business websites checked were making concerning claims. The proportion was highest among the cosmetic, clothing and footwear, and food and drink packaging sectors.

Strong incentives for greenwashing

Recent Consumer Policy Research Centre research shows 45% percent of Australians always or often consider sustainability as part of their purchasing decision-making. At least 50% of Australians say they are worried about green claim truthfulness across every sector.

Given consumer concern, businesses have a strong incentive to “green” their businesses. But that comes with a strong incentive to claim more than is justified.

Major Australian business regulators – the ACCC and Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) – are both prioritising enforcement action against greenwashing.

ASIC has issued dozens of interventions against misleading and deceptive environmental disclosures by companies and super funds. The ACCC has issued draft guidance for businesses on how to avoid greenwashing when making environmental and sustainability claims.

A Senate inquiry into greenwashing is expected to report in mid-2024 as to whether stricter regulation is necessary to protect consumers from misleading greenwashing.

What is ‘sustainable', anyway?

Our research highlights the plethora of green claims businesses make in social media advertising. Consumers are forced to choose between accepting claims at face value or committing to a deep dive to research each product they buy and the claims they make.

Many green claims come from the energy sector, with some energy companies claiming to be “greener” without any detail. Some claim carbon offsets or carbon neutrality – highly contested terms.

Ads for “sustainable” travel often showed destinations emphasising a connection with nature, but did not explain what aspect of the travel was sustainable.

One personal care brand heavily advertised its “sustainable” packaging, but the fine print showed it related only to the boxes their products are shipped in, not the actual product packaging. A claim like this can create an undeserved green halo across a whole product range.

Claims that products are biodegradable, compostable or recyclable can be particularly problematic, since this is often technically true yet practically difficult. Some products labelled biodegradable may need to be taken to a specific facility, but a consumer might assume they will biodegrade in their home compost bin.

What can we do?

Australians cannot wait years for enforcement action against potentially misleading green claims. The economy and the digital world is moving too fast and the need for sustainability is too urgent. Governments must enact laws now to ensure green terms are clearly defined and based on the truth.

The European Union is currently working on a “Green claims” directive that seeks to ban generic claims such as “eco-friendly”, “green”, “carbon positive” and “energy efficient”. Claims would have to be specific, meaningful and based on independently verified excellent environmental performance.

The United Kingdom has already issued similar guidance via an environmental claims code and is also considering stricter legislation.

Australian regulators should have the power to blacklist green terms that cannot be substantiated and are inherently meaningless or misleading.

Some high-polluting sectors should be banned from making any kind of green claim in advertising, due to the overwhelming negative environmental impact of their business models and practices, as the EU is considering. Fossil-fuel companies, for example, should not be permitted to use green claims in marketing.

Australian consumers deserve green choices that are clear, comparable, meaningful, and true. 

 

Follow HT Tech for the latest tech news and reviews , also keep up with us on Whatsapp channel,Twitter, Facebook, Google News, and Instagram. For our latest videos, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

First Published Date: 03 Dec, 06:51 IST
Tags:
NEXT ARTICLE BEGINS