'Be clear and upfront': CMA urges UK businesses to avoid greenwashing

After finding that 40% of sustainability-related claims by businesses online could be misleading, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has set out recommendations on avoiding greenwashing.

In a bid to appease increasingly environmentally-minded consumers, many businesses are overstating their positive impact, the CMA believes 

In a bid to appease increasingly environmentally-minded consumers, many businesses are overstating their positive impact, the CMA believes 

The CMA first began its inquiries into greenwashing last year, focusing on a string of consumer-facing sectors where claims by businesses were found to be the most common and most confusing. These include health and beauty products, home cleaning products, food and drinks and fashion.

It quickly found that four in ten corporates in the sectors analysed are providing information on environmental criteria that could be considered misleading and potentially breaking consumer laws. For example, products were routinely labelled ‘organic’ or ‘recycled’ despite not containing majority organic ingredients or recycled content. Products were also labelled as “free from plastic micro beads, unlike others”, when microbeads have, in fact, been banned across the UK for several years now.

While the investigation is still ongoing and a full debrief is yet to be unveiled, the CMA has outlined six initial principles for all environmental claims from businesses in the interim. These are:

  • Ensuring accuracy
  • Ensuring that claims are clear and unambiguous, understood by consumers unanimously
  • Ensuring that important information is not omitted or hidden deliberately
  • Ensuring that ‘fair and meaningful’ comparisons can be made between products
  • Ensuring that the full life-cycle of a product is taken into account (i.e. differentiate between recyclable and includes recycled content)
  • Ensuring that claims can be substantiated. Businesses must be able and prepared to back up claims with “robust, credible and up-to-date” evidence when challenged by a consumer or interested group.

 

Should the principles be applied, brands and media outlets could be prevented from describing product ranges in sectors like fashion as “greener” or “more sustainable” than competitors or industry averages without a detailed explanation.

The CMA’s chief executive Andrea Coscielli pointed out that greenwashing is not only confusing consumers and damaging the trust between the public and brands, but resulting in environmentally damaging companies receiving consumer loyalty while companies leading on environmental progress are not always “getting the recognition they deserve”.

“Whether it’s buying clothes, cosmetics or cleaning products, more people than ever are trying to make choices which are better for the environment,” Coscielli said, pointing to previous CMA research revealing that half of UK consumers take environmental considerations into account when shopping.

“Many businesses are already doing the right thing by being clear and upfront about how green a product really is, but that’s not always the case.”

The CMA’s consultation on the principles and on greenwashing more widely will close on 16 July. The body is then planning to publish a final guidance report in September.


Carbon calculators and combatting greenwash: How will the advertising sector reach net-zero?

Readers interested in this news are encouraged to read our recent feature, produced following an exclusive interview with trade body the Advertising Association. 

Last year, the Association aunched a new initiative to reach net-zero by 2030. In this feature, edie's content editor Matt Mace explores how the sector is collaborating to meet this milestone while also spurring a wider culture change that informs the public on sustainable products and services.

Read the feature here. 


Sarah George 



Tags

| Retail | Corporate Social Responsibility | ethics | Communications

Topics

CSR & ethics | Green policy


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