Watchdog to monitor ‘eco-friendly’ claims in fight against greenwash

CMA 'eco' claims need transparency
Shoppers are spending four times as much as they did 20 years ago on products labelled as environmentally friendly, according to Co-op report (Image: cottonbro via Pexels)

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will be vetting businesses that make claims about the sustainability or environmental impact of their products. As demand increased to £41 billion in 2019 for ‘ethical’ goods and services (according to Co-op research), the group is on the lookout for misleading claims.


The focus is likely to centre on the industries already clouded in misleading claims, notably the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) space with cosmetics, food and cleaning products, along with fashion.

“It’s important that people can easily choose between those who are doing the right thing for the environment and those who are not, so that businesses genuinely investing in going green can be properly rewarded by their customers,” explains Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA.

Here’s what we found interesting:

Behaviours on watch

This all comes down to the interpretation of the information shoppers are being given:

  1. How is it presented (colours, logos etc.), 
  2. What words are used (using jargon to suggest something positive) 
  3. Not giving the full information (*this is particularly interesting as it’s something all brand marketers need to ask: “Is it greenwashing to present only the good stuff – however true it might be?”*)

Green sells

“This surge in demand for green products and services could incentivise some businesses to make misleading, vague or false claims about the sustainability or environmental impact of the things they sell.” – Gov.UK

Businesses think that if their product sounds green or sustainable, then they will sell more of it. To dive into this more, the CMA will be issuing a survey for shoppers to find out about the influence of eco-friendly messaging on their buying decisions. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for this…

Trusted claims

“Our role is to make sure that consumers can trust the claims they see on products.” – Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA

This suggests that the shopper is passive. Along with trust, they highlight the importance of “ease of choice” – so do shoppers just want to be told what to do? 

We see two approaches at play:

  • Show the standard and the proof – then let the shopper decide (Provenance approach)
  • Make sure it meets a standard (often opaque) and tell shoppers it’s true (Government and certification approach)

We believe in transparency with integrity – meaning brands are open *and* provide evidence around the claims they make for their customers to see.

However, “there is a new trend in companies certifying their own products, meaning that standards are not always externally checked and the criteria are often not transparent,” explains Clare Carlile of Ethical Consumer in The Guardian.

This is where speaking a clear and common language around impact comes into play, which is what we’ve done with our Transparency Framework at Provenance. You can see this approach mentioned in the British Beauty Council’s landmark sustainability report (October 2020), which covers our work with Cult Beauty and 45+ brands across their online store. It’s also what won us the €1M prize for “Blockchains for Social Good” from the European Commission – a standardised framework for communicating a product’s sustainability and impact that ensures all claims are backed up with proof.

Read more about what the CMA will be doing over the coming months to protect shoppers from greenwashing.

 


Learn more about our work in FMCG to provide transparent, evidence-backed information to shoppers at the point of sale.