There can be no denying that green claims help businesses sell products and services and when that is for the genuine benefit of the environment; I believe this is a good thing. It is right to celebrate green credentials that are making a real, positive impact on the planet. However, as consumer demand for all things green is increasing so too is the risk that some green claims made by businesses are not entirely honest - they don’t represent true, innovate design or intent.
Consumers aren’t blind to fake news or exaggeration. Misleading green claims pose a serious risk to consumer trust in honest environmental enterprise. Where false claims infiltrate a marketplace - consumers end up not knowing what or who to believe. That is why it is so important that all businesses, and those in advisory roles such as lawyers, marketers and advertisers, think carefully about how green claims are positioned and substantiated. Don’t be tempted to jump on the green bandwagon without doing your homework first. Authenticity is critical when telling your sustainability story. You must carefully consider the facts behind any claims before communicating with consumers.
The consequences of getting green claims wrong are serious. Consumer trust is hard earned and easily lost if a business is caught out exaggerating, confusing customers or telling lies. At the CMA we are actively watching out for misleading green claims, with a compliance review ongoing. Where we investigate and find evidence of greenwashing; we will name and shame wrongdoers.
However, I also believe that the majority of businesses want to do the right thing and at the CMA we don’t want to deter genuine green businesses from shouting about their sustainability stories – particularly hard working and innovative SMEs who are having a genuinely positive impact on the environment.
So, how can your business start articulating what you are doing to make a positive change for the environment?
Six principles for getting your environmental claims right
The CMA has published guidance on making environmental claims on goods and services.
Our “Green Claims Code” is designed to help all businesses navigate consumer protection rules concerning green claims and give consumers the information they need to make informed decisions about the environmental impact of their purchases.
Make your claims truthful and accurate
For your customers to make informed choices about what they buy, environmental claims must be truthful and accurate. You need to ensure that your claims don’t give customers a false impression of your product, even if the words you write are factually correct.
Labelling a product ‘green’ and decorating it with leaves, for example, is likely to mislead consumers, if it has harmful environmental effects.
Make your claims clear and unambiguous
Claims should be transparent and straightforward so your customers can easily understand them. They shouldn’t confuse consumers or give the impression that a product, service, brand or business is better for the environment than it really is.
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes – would they understand the claim you are making? And would the meaning they take from it match the environmental impact of your product? If not, you risk misleading them.
Don’t omit or hide important information
What claims don’t say can also influence the decisions consumers make.
These sorts of omissions can occur where claims focus on saying one thing but not another, or where they say nothing at all. Pay close attention to the information on environmental impacts that your customers need to make decisions about and reflect that in the claims you make.
Comparative environmental claims must be fair and meaningful
It’s important that consumers are not misled by the way comparative claims are made. Comparisons should be based on clear, up-to-date and objective information.
Think about whether the product or service you’re comparing your product or service to is truly a substitute for your own. And if the product or service you’re comparing to is a previous version of your own, think about how long it is legitimate to make the claim.
Make sure you think about the full life cycle of your product/service
The full life cycle of a product or service may be relevant when you’re making a claim.
Claims can be based on a specific part of an advertised product's life cycle, or part of a business’s activities, and you need to make clear which aspect they refer to. But if you are making a claim about a specific aspect of your environmental impact, and ignoring some other important aspect of its life cycle which is damaging to the environment, you might still be giving consumers the impression that you are greener than you actually are.
Get your evidence first
Most environmental claims are likely to be objective or factual claims that can be tested against scientific or other evidence. Businesses need to have evidence to back up and substantiate claims.
Start with the evidence first. Once you know what evidence you have of the impact you make on the environment (or the impact you don’t make!), it will be easier to decide what you can legitimately tell your consumers about the good you are doing.
The Competition and Markets Authority is committed to supporting the transition to a low carbon economy. We’ve recently published advice to Government on how competition and consumer laws can help meet the UK's environmental goals, and we have outlined plans for a Sustainability Taskforce.
There’s plenty more information about the CMA’s Green Claims Code on the CMA’s campaign site.