Following the launch in November 2020 of its investigation into potentially misleading environmental claims targeting consumers, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published draft consumer protection law guidance aimed at all businesses making such claims.
The CMA's draft guidance follows a six-month investigation into "green" claims, which aimed to better understand what consumers expect from eco-friendly products and how these claims influence their purchasing decisions. With the increased popularity of environmentally friendly products comes an increased risk of "greenwashing", whereby brands may exaggerate their environmental credentials in order to promote their businesses and boost sales.
Whilst the CMA's draft guidance broadly restates the existing position under UK consumer protection law (see textbox below), its main value is in the various practical examples it provides of claims that it considers misleading. These relate to issues including:
- Use of terms such as "recyclable", "compostable" or "biodegradable" (and other claims about the durability or disposability of a product or its packaging)
- Claims such as "Trusted eco holiday provider" (implying membership of an independently assessed quality assurance scheme)
- Whether a product is "organic" or "sustainably produced"
- Claims about carbon neutrality.
Noting that there is often limited space on packaging or promotional material, the CMA suggests that businesses could in some cases avoid claims being regarded as misleading by providing additional information on a website or via a QR code link. However, it warns against highlighting positive information about a product's environmental impact whilst ignoring negative impacts, such as production, transportation or disposal costs, arguing that such an approach may give consumers the impression that a product is "greener" than it actually is. Businesses are therefore urged to consider whether the overall impression being given to the consumer reflects the full environmental impact of the product or service (over its entire life-cycle/duration).
- Claims must be truthful and accurate
- Claims should be clear and unambiguous
- Claims should not omit or hide important information
- Comparisons should be fair and meaningful
- Claims should take into account the full life cycle of the product
- Claims should be substantiated