Greenwash is a huge problem. In fact, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that 40% of green claims made online could be misleading.
This means many companies could potentially be in violation of the law and putting their reputations at risk. So with the CMA’s new ‘Green Claims Code’ coming into effect from January 2022, is your brand ready?
What is Greenwash?
According to the Cambridge dictionary, greenwash ‘is an attempt to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.’
Sounds all too familiar, right? Unfortunately, as awareness around the impacts of climate breakdown become more evident, and as consumer pressure continues to rise, greenwash is becoming more and more prevalent.
Companies who are knowingly, or unknowingly, making environmental promises whilst continuing to harm the planet are accelerating climate breakdown and misleading consumers all over the world. And as brands are seeing the benefits of going green, many more are inflating their environmental credentials.
Just look at the stunt from The Yes Men that got fake environmental claims from a private jet company, Yasava, accepted as an official member of two different UN carbon reduction initiatives. The Yes Men claimed Yasava’s aircraft produced oxygen rather than carbon dioxide, resulting in “a sub-zero CO2 carbon footprint, effectively contributing to pro-active reversal of atmospheric greenhouse gas effects.”
Mind Blowing, we know. This stunt raised serious questions around corporate greenwashing, especially during COP26. So, it’s no surprise that the new ‘Green Claims Code’ has been welcomed with open arms by the environmental community.
What is the Green Claims Code?
Announced just before COP26 in Glasgow, the Green Claims Code aims to protect consumers, help brands understand how to communicate their green credentials and ultimately hold greenwashers to account.
The complex nature of sustainability and the vast speed at which consumers are now demanding greener brands and business practices, means many organisations are unintentionally greenwashing to stay relevant. And combine this with the brands who are deliberately greenwashing to mislead consumers, and the landscape becomes impossible to navigate. In short, greenwash is absolutely everywhere.
Coming into force in 2022, the code is based on six principles drawn from existing consumer law:
- Be truthful and accurate: Businesses must live up to the claims they make about their products, services, brands and activities
- 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
- Not omit or hide important information: Claims must not prevent someone from making an informed choice because of the information they leave out
- Only make fair and meaningful comparisons: Any products compared should meet the same needs or be intended for the same purpose
- 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
- Be substantiated: Businesses should be able to back up their claims with robust, credible and up to date evidence
What does the Green Claims Code mean for your brand?
As well as being concerned that people are being misled by environmental claims, the CMA also wants to make sure that brands have the confidence to communicate their credentials, whilst navigating the law. However, if your brand is found to be greenwashing, and your communications have breached consumer law, the CMA will take action.
In fact, if a business doesn’t comply with consumer protection law including the current guidance, the CMA and other bodies (like Trading Standards), can bring court proceedings. In some cases businesses may be required to compensate consumers harmed by a breach of consumer protection law.
After a bedding-in period, the CMA will undertake a big old review of green claims both online and offline in the priority sectors of textiles and fashion, travel and transport, and FMCG brands. These are the industries where consumers are most concerned that greenwash is happening.
However, any area where the CMA finds greenwash is rife could become a priority too.
So whether you’re unsure how to communicate your green credentials, or your brand has been deliberately greenwashing, it’s time to check your comms. This code means there are now no excuses. It’s absolutely vital that brands understand how to communicate their sustainable credentials authentically and transparently.
To read the full guidance, head to the ‘Green Claims Code’ website here.