The UK competition watchdog has set out its views on the types of misleading environmental claims made about products – including clothing – that could break the law, and is seeking views on draft guidance for businesses about ‘green’ claims.
Such guidance is based on a careful review of how these claims are being made and how people respond to them, the CMA says, adding it explains the best way for businesses to communicate their green credentials while reducing the risk of misleading customers.
The direction comes at a time when it is said more than half of UK consumers take environmental considerations into account when buying products.
In particular, the proposed guidance sets out six principles that environmental claims should follow.
- Must be truthful and accurate: Businesses must live up to the claims they make about their products, services, brands, and activities
- Must be clear and unambiguous: The meaning that a consumer is likely to take from a product’s messaging and the credentials of that product should match
- Must not omit or hide important information: Claims must not prevent someone from making an informed choice because of the information they leave out
- Must only make fair and meaningful comparisons: Any products compared should meet the same needs or be intended for the same purpose
- Must consider the full life cycle of the product: When making claims, businesses must consider the total impact of a product or service. Claims can be misleading where they don’t reflect the overall impact or where they focus on one aspect of it but not another
- Must be substantiated: Businesses should be able to back up their claims with robust, credible and up to date evidence
“Whether it’s buying clothes, cosmetics or cleaning products, more people than ever are trying to make choices which are better for the environment,” says Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA.
“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. We’re concerned that people are paying extra for so-called ‘eco-friendly’ products and those businesses which are genuinely investing in going green aren’t getting the recognition they deserve.
“We’re seeking views on our draft guidance, which clearly sets out what we propose businesses should do, to reduce the risk of misleading their customers. People must be able to trust the claims they see and businesses must be able to back them up.”
The CMA is inviting views on its guidance and is particularly keen to hear from anyone who buys or sells products which claim to be eco-friendly, including whether any further information is needed to help companies comply with the law.
The consultation will run until 16 July 2021, with the aim of publishing the final guidance by the end of September 2021.
The move comes after the CMA announced in November it was investigating the impact of green marketing on consumers, in line with its annual plan commitment. As part of this, the CMA recently led on an analysis of websites – alongside other global authorities – which found that 40% of green claims made online could be misleading.
As part of the international sweep, CMA said in January, International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network members had analysed almost 500 websites promoting products and services across a range of sectors, including clothes, cosmetics and food.
Members found that four in ten of these websites appeared to be using tactics that could be considered misleading and therefore potentially break consumer law. These included:
- Vague claims and unclear language including terms such as ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’ or reference to ‘natural products’ without adequate explanation or evidence of the claims.
- Own brand eco logos and labels not associated with an accredited organisation.
- Hiding or omitting certain information, such as a product’s pollution levels, to appear more eco-friendly.
In a statement at the time, the CMA said ICPEN members had not reached a view as to whether or not consumer protection law has been broken. However, the CMA added if it finds evidence that businesses are misleading UK consumers, it will take appropriate action.