Increasing consumer interest in the environmental performance of companies has been reflected by a significant rise in the use of so-called “Green Claims” on products and in advertisements. Demonstrating environmental credentials has also become a key part of the marketing strategy of many companies. There is, however, rising concern that some claims are being used to “greenwash” products rather than to provide accurate information about the environmental credentials of goods. Uncertainty about the use of terms such as “environmentally friendly”, “re-usable”, sustainable”, or “carbon neutral” and when such terms can be used makes it difficult for consumers who wish to purchase genuinely “green” products to distinguish between those which truly are “green” and those which may not be. Also, companies that invest in green products and market them on that basis feel that ambiguous use of ‘green claims’ undermines the commercial advantage that has cost them money to create.
In the UK, DEFRA advises businesses to make Green Claims in accordance with its guidance document “Green Claims – practical guidance” first published in 2003. These are not, however, legal requirements and criminal sanctions for misleading descriptions on goods currently only have effect under legislation such as the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. A DEFRA consultation is currently underway to look at new sanctions against companies that breach the energy efficiency labelling requirements. It is anticipated that this consultation will lead to the DEFRA Green Claims practical guidance document being updated and further information being published on how advertising and marketing campaigns should present environmental claims.
At present the main criteria companies should ensure they comply with are as follows:
- No green claim should be misleading whether through ambiguity, exaggeration, admission or inaccuracy;
- The basis of any claim should be clearly explained and qualified where necessary;
- Evidence to support green claims must be available;
- Exaggerated or confusing scientific terms must be avoided; and
- Green claims should always be legal and truthful.