What does the CMA’s latest guidance on ‘green’ claims mean for marketers?

Published on
May 27, 2021
Tim Slater

What has the CMA shared and why?

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) last week issued draft guidance around making environmental claims, inviting businesses, shoppers and other stakeholders to submit feedback by Friday 16th July 2021. The final consumer protection law guidance for businesses will then be published in August or September.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, explained that the guidance is designed to enable a fairer deal both for conscious shoppers and for businesses making genuine progress on sustainability: “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”.

What are the CMA’s recommendations?

The CMA divided its recommendations for businesses between six principles. The full document runs for 48 pages – below, we’ve highlighted some of the key takeaways.

Claims must be truthful and accurate

  • Claims that are technically true can be deemed deceptive: “[3.4] Claims must not mislead consumers by giving them an inaccurate impression, even if those claims are factually correct.”
  • Brands must not mislead shoppers around recyclability: “[3.7] For example, businesses must not claim, or otherwise give the impression, that a product is ‘recyclable’ if it is not, or if only parts of it are and others are not, preventing recycling.”
  • Brands cannot dress up legal obligations as environmental benefits: “[3.12] Claims must not suggest that products, processes, brands or businesses provide environmental benefits which are, in fact, standard features [or] ordinary legal requirements.”

Claims should be clear and unambiguous

  • Brands should use shopper-friendly language: “[3.42] Claims should be worded in a way which is transparent and straightforward so consumers can easily understand them.”
  • Environmental claims should be specific: “[3.44] Vague and/or general statements of environmental benefit – ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘eco’, or ‘sustainable’ – are more likely to be misleading.”

Claims should not omit or hide important information

  • Brands must tell the whole truth: “[3.59] Claims made by businesses must not omit or hide information that consumers need to make informed choices.”
  • Carbon neutrality claims should state the reduction and/or offsetting strategy: “[3.68] They should provide information about the scheme (which should be based on recognised standards and measurements, capable of objective verification).”
  • Brands should share sustainability information off-pack and online: “[3.76] Thought should be given to how [information about the full life-cycle of a product] could be disclosed to the consumer by some other means (e.g. by link to information on a website via a QR code). [3.49] In an online claim, for example, [information] should be made available by a single click through link.”

Comparisons should be fair and meaningful

  • Environmental comparisons between products should be like-for-like: “[3.95] A product should only be compared to another that is similar and used for similar purposes.”
  • Brands should share the method behind comparisons: “[3.92] The values used to measure these comparisons, and the way they are presented, should be clear enough for consumers to understand.”

Claims should consider the full life cycle of the product

  • Claims based on a specific part of a product’s life-cycle should say so: “[3.102] Claims may be based on a specific part of an advertised product’s life cycle, or part of a business’s activities. It should be clear which aspect they refer to.”
  • Brands should focus claims on where they have the biggest impact: “[3.103] Claims are less likely to mislead where they focus on aspects of a product or business that are most significant in terms of the overall environmental impact.”

Claims should be substantiated

  • Brands should make the evidence behind claims accessible to shoppers: “[3.122] Claims are less likely to mislead where the supporting evidence is publicly available and it is clear where and how consumers can verify the claims.”
  • Brands must keep evidence updated over time: “[3.119] Keeping evidence up to date is likely to be particularly important where claims are maintained for longer periods or in areas where scientific understanding or consumers’ expectations are developing quickly.”

What are the legal implications?

According to the draft guidance, “[2.33] if a business does not comply with consumer protection law, the CMA and other bodies, such as Trading Standards Services, can bring court proceedings.

Notably, shoppers themselves will be able to bring legal proceedings in response to a misleading claim: “[2.34] Businesses may also face legal action from consumers, who can bring legal proceedings in response to a business’s conduct or seek redress in the courts for certain breaches of consumer protection law.”

What else do I need to know?

To better understand the wider international regulatory landscape, check out more of our coverage of anti-greenwashing regulation:

To learn more about how Provenance can help you make credible, consistent and comprehensive environmental claims, click here.

Tim Slater

Tim Slater is the Marketing Lead at Provenance. He works closely with our Impact team to translate their expertise into actionable content that helps brands minimise their impact on people and planet and avoid greenwashing.

The Provenance Team

Provenance powers sustainability claims you can trust. The global leader in sustainability marketing technology, Provenance helps brands and retailers share credible, compelling and fact-checked social and environmental impact information at the point of sale. Provenance’s technology is already increasing conversion rates, brand value and market share for customers including Cult Beauty, Douglas, GANNI, Napolina, Arla and Unilever

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