Most NAD challenges are initiated by competitors, but NAD can also initiate its own inquiries as part of its mission to independently monitor national ads for truthfulness and accuracy. Over the past few months, NAD has initiated inquiries into green claims made by Georgia-Pacific and Everlane. Last week, NAD announced a decision involving an inquiry into various green claims made by Chipotle, once again signaling that these types of claims are a priority.

Real Foodprint

Chipotle’s Real Foodprint campaign aims to inform consumers about how much more environmentally friendly each ingredient in their Chipotle meal is as compared to “conventional” ingredients. For example, after consumers purchase food using Chipotle’s mobile app, they can view information about the gallons of water saved, grams of carbon in the atmosphere, square footage of improved soil health, and milligrams of antibiotics used for each ingredient.

Chipotle Foodprint

To support these claims, Chipotle relied on analysis provided by HowGood, an independent third party. NAD concluded that although the analysis provided a reasonable basis for the claims, the claims could be misconstrued in some contexts. For example, when claims appeared on a receipt, consumers could believe that the metrics related to that individual order, rather than average calculations. Therefore, NAD recommended that Chipotle more clearly communicate that the metrics were averages.

Aspirational Claims

NAD also examined various aspirational claims, including a boy’s musings of whether a burrito could make farmers “more organic” and “less carbon emitting,” and a commitment “to divert 50% of waste from landfills.” NAD considered whether the claim created particular expectations and, if so, whether Chipotle had substantiation. It is “incumbent on an advertiser to demonstrate that its goals and aspirations are not merely illusory and to provide evidence of its commitments.”

As with previous cases involving aspirational claims, NAD generally examined whether Chipotle had a plan in place to achieve these goals and whether it had made progress towards achieving them. In this case, NAD was satisfied that Chipotle could substantiate the claims. For example, Chipotle presented evidence that it has made significant efforts to purchase organic ingredients, to reduce carbon emissions, and to divert waste from landfills.

Other Claims and Lessons

Chipotle also advertised that it was reducing greenhouse gas emissions “from farm to foil.” NAD determined that “farm to foil” could reasonably be interpreted to include “all substantial parts of the supply chain up until the final product, placed in foil, is handed to consumers.” Although Chipotle presented evidence of reductions in parts of the supply chain, NAD recommended that it modify the claim to “make clear the parts of its supply chain that have reduced carbon emissions.”

This decision demonstrates that NAD is closely looking at various types of green claims, including claims about sustainability and future goals. In this case, Chipotle presented a lot of detailed evidence, including independent third-party analysis and peer-reviewed articles. Companies making these types of claims should take note and ensure that they carefully analyze how their claims will be interpreted and that they have detailed substantiation to support those claims.