Last month's decision by the National Advertising Division in Georgia Pacific Consumer Products LP (Quilted Northern Ultra Soft & Strong Bathroom Tissue) provides advertisers with a wealth of information regarding environmental marketing claims. NAD opened the case under its public monitoring program and analyzed three main areas of claims: the Advertiser's tree-planting efforts, energy efficient manufacturing, and sustainability. Here's what NAD said about each:
First, NAD reviewed the Advertiser's tree planting claims, such as "3 trees planted for every three used." NAD found that the evidence the Advertiser provided -- including various contracts showing the commitments the Advertiser had both with its vendors and with third parties, as well as its tree planting tracker noting those efforts -- provided a reasonable basis for the Advertiser's tree planting claims.
Notably, the Advertiser also made an aspirational version of the claim, touting that its plan is to "plant 2 million new trees by the end of 2021," which was accompanied by a qualifying disclosure explaining what the number was based on. NAD found that "because its aspirational claim includes specific, objective goals, it is incumbent on an advertiser to provide evidence that it is committed to its stated goal and has taken action to realistically reach it."
Energy Efficient Manufacturing
NAD found that the Advertiser's claim, "over 90% of bath tissue's environmental impact occurs in the manufacturing process," was supported, based on a variety of evidence provided by the Advertiser, including life cycle analyses of various manufacturing processes conducted by a third party.
While NAD similarly found that the Advertiser had a reasonable basis for its claim, "saves 30% more water and uses 30% less energy," NAD felt that it was not clear whether the environmental benefit being touted was related to one specific step in the manufacturing process. Therefore, NAD recommended the Advertiser modify the claim to make that clear.
NAD also found there was a reasonable basis for the Advertiser's claim, "energy efficient manufacturing," noting that while the claim was inherently comparative, the Advertiser had a reasonable basis for the claim because it did not convey that it was the most efficient, just that it uses less energy to perform the same function as competing processes.
In addition, NAD found that the Advertiser's real life savings examples (claims such as, "if everyone in the U.S. who bought premium 2 ply toilet paper switched to Quilted Norther Ultra Soft & Strong for 1 year, we would save enough water to....") were supported by the Advertiser's annual water savings calculations. NAD did recommend, however, that the Advertiser modify the claims to make clear that switching could only support each example provided individually, rather than all examples collectively.
The last group of claims NAD reviewed involved claims such as, "premium comfort made sustainably" and "premium design with the environment in mind." NAD reiterated that "it is challenging for advertisers who wish to communicate information to consumers about the sustainability of their products . . . . Because images and terms suggestive of sustainability can give rise to so many different meanings and expectations on the part of consumers, such claims can be difficult to substantiate."
In looking at the Advertiser's broader sustainability claims, NAD's decision made clear that context is key. For example, NAD analyzed the claim, "premium comfort made sustainably," as it appeared on both the front and back of packaging, in the context of the more specific claims about tree planting and energy efficiency that were also made. On the front of the packaging, NAD determined that, given the context in which they appeared, the presentation of the claims did not necessarily limit the message communicated by the broader sustainability claim, because the more specific claims appeared separately on the packaging and communicated a separate message. With respect to the front of packaging claim, NAD recommended the Advertiser modify the claims to clearly qualify the benefits. NAD found otherwise with respect to the same claim on the back of the Advertiser's packaging. There, NAD felt that because the claim was more directly tied to the qualifying language about the specific claims, it was adequately qualified and supported.
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This case is a great reminder for marketers that, when it comes to environmental marketing claims, context is key. While the intended claim may be supported, context may dictate that a slightly different and potentially unsupported claim is ultimately communicated to consumers. Similarly, the same claim made in two different contexts may communicate two different messages -- one of which may be broader than an advertiser has sufficient support for.
Georgia Pacific Consumer Products LP (Quilted Northern Ultra Soft & Strong Bathroom Tissue), Report #7018, NAD/CARU Case Reports (September 2021).
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