Is Guidance on Green Marketing and Greenwashing Coming to the UAE?

Environmental and sustainability claims are increasingly becoming part and parcel of marketing campaigns globally. As consumers become more conscious of their individual environmental impact, there is an expectation for brands and businesses to follow suit. Businesses are adopting methods of promoting products and services by showcasing their sustainability and environmental friendliness. In recent years, green marketing campaigns have been used across various industries, including financial services, aviation and retail.

As a result, there has been significant development in regulating the use of green claims, particularly in Europe and Australia where legislation, guidance and enforcement regimes have set high standards and are continually trying to hold brands accountable.

There is no doubt that the UAE is committed to realising its sustainability goals. With extensive renewable energy initiatives taking place across the country, the rise of sustainable cities and last year (2023) declared the Year of Sustainability, it is evident that sustainability is at the forefront of development in the UAE. Given the country’s commitment to sustainability, it is therefore surprising that in comparison to other countries, the UAE still has some way to go in issuing detailed regulations or guidance on green marketing.

While there are no specific rules or guides on green marketing, the UAE’s Federal Law No. 15/2020 - on Consumer Protection (“Consumer Protection Law”) and the Advertising Guide issued in 2018 by the National Media Council (now under the authority of the Media Regulatory Office)(“Advertising Guide”) provides guidance that are applicable to green marketing.

The definition of ‘misleading advertisement’ under the Consumer Protection Law is defined relatively broadly and includes advertising based on deceptive information or omitting essential or basic information relating to goods or services being sold or provided. General sustainability statements and claims without any supporting data or backing would likely be caught under this definition.

Under the Advertising Guide, advertisements must not include or contain false or misleading claims, exaggerate and must not create any confusion. Most marketing campaigns rely on the use of very few words or short visuals (particularly social media marketing campaigns). This makes it easy for brands and businesses to launch campaigns with very little or no explanatory statements to accompany any marketing statement.

In December 2023, an advertising campaign by a UAE based airline was banned by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for making environmental claims which were misleading by “exaggerating the environmental benefits of flying” with the airline. As a UAE based business, it is not clear whether any penalties have been issued by the Media Regulatory Office or the UAE Ministry of Economy for this particular marketing campaign, which would also be a breach of the Consumer Protection Law and the Advertising Guide.

International best practice indicates that general terms such as "environmentally friendly", "green", "sustainable", "eco-friendly", "nature-friendly", etc. must not be used in advertising without explanation or substantiating information. Where possible, clear information on such environmental claims and explanatory information on the methods used to measure or assess the environmental impact should be included in the advertising or consumers should be directed to channels where they can obtain details of environmental statements and explanatory information. This includes accompanying materials or websites.

Under the Consumer Protection Law, the penalty for conducting misleading advertisements is a fine between AED 10,000 and AED 2,000,000 and/or imprisonment. Breach of the Advertising Guide will also result in fines ranging from AED 5,000 up to AED 20,000 for repeat violations. In addition to monetary penalties, the authority may also delete any phrase, paragraph, page, image, scene or any part of the publication or prohibit the circulation, printing or entry of the printed or visual or audio material to the UAE.

In the absence of green marketing regulations and guidance, UAE companies (particularly those launching international campaigns), should ensure that their marketing campaigns adhere to the standards developed by countries where green marketing rules are codified. As the UAE continues to adopt technologies to make its cities more sustainable and sustainability becomes a marker of success for businesses globally, it will be interesting to see whether the legal regime concerning green marketing will also develop at the same pace.

If your business is looking to roll out global marketing campaigns involving green claims, we recommend that you reach out to our experts across our network.

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