Common carbon claims on products baffling to most shoppers, survey finds

A survey of 2,000 adults in the UK has revealed that most feel more confident in their understanding of green claims relating to materials and recycling than in their knowledge of climate-related terms.

The results, published this week by FleishmanHillard, reveal that seven in ten people feel confident when they encounter products and packaging that state ‘100% recyclable’ or ‘fully recyclable’.

The majority also felt they understood claims like ‘uses a percentage of sustainable materials’ or ‘made with less plastic’.

But levels of understanding were mixed when the survey respondents were presented with common climate-related on-pack claims.

Only 28% said they would be confident understanding a carbon intensity label, like ‘this product produces X kg of CO2e per kg’.

Just one-third said they understood what ‘carbon-negative’ meant and the proportion was the same for the claim: ‘75% less carbon than the rival product’.

Four in ten said they were confident in interpreting the ‘certified carbon-neutral’ label, but this still means that the majority are confused about the meaning of the term.

FleishmanHillard’s sustainability communications specialist Imogen Sackey explained: “Businesses must avoid jargon, use simple language and give shoppers easy access to more information that explains what these common claims mean and details the impact. Above all, they need to ensure environmental communications is evidence-based and holds up to ever-rising scrutiny.

“Brands that do so will win on multiple fronts — delivering desperately needed impact while driving greater trust and protecting market share in a challenging business environment.”

The survey did reveal that most shoppers are wary of green claims on products, largely when they are unable to easily find additional information. Almost seven in ten said they had previously looked for more details after seeing a green claim, but struggled to find this information.

Clamping down on greenwashing

Businesses in many markets are facing increased regulatory pressure to ensure that their green claims do not mislead consumers.

This trend is most pronounced in Europe. The EU, after finalising its green finance taxonomy last year, is now looking at new standards that will restrict which bonds and other financial products can be called ‘green’ or ‘responsible’.

The bloc is also looking at labelling on consumer goods. In May, the European Parliament backed rules limiting the use of carbon-related claims on products to those brands able to provide robust evidence to customers in an easy-to-understand format. This is part of a broader green claims directive.

It is also working on universal carbon labelling on products including food and drinks. If labelling is standardised and comparable, proponents argue, shoppers will soon be able to interpret and compare labels the same way they currently do for nutritional information.

These changes will affect UK-headquartered firms that sell in the EU. Also in the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is conducting research and making targeted interventions in response to evidence of greenwashing in sectors including fashion and cleaning products.

Comments (1)

  1. Ian Byrne says:

    One reason for the confusion over terms like “carbon neutral” is that there are many competing definitions, including some that don’t mean anything more than “we’ve gone a bought a few offsets”.
    We have been trying to address that with an international standard, ISO 14068 “Carbon Neutrality” to provide a high quality and transparent label. This is at its final (FDIS) stage, and is due to be launched in November. The label will not mean that a product is perfect, but it should enable clarity about exactly what is covered by the statement/claim.

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