The British competition authority CMA wants to cast a more critical eye on greenwashing. The focus is on companies that offer products or services and label or promote them with sustainability or eco-friendly attributes, and whether they could mislead consumers. This has been recently announced by the UK government in an official press release.
This new program of work is a response to the growing number of products and services being marketed as environmentally friendly, as awareness of environmental issues increases. In 2019, UK consumers spent £41 billion a year on ethical goods and services – almost 4 times as much as people spent two decades ago, the CMA reports.
Based on its own research and evidence from other enforcers, the CMA is concerned that this surge in demand for green products and services could incentivize some businesses to make misleading, vague or false claims about the sustainability or environmental impact of the things they sell.
Examples of misleading behavior could include:
– exaggerating the positive environmental impact of a product or service
– using complex or jargon-heavy language
– implying that items are eco-friendly through packaging and logos when this is not true
As part of its work, the CMA will also consider whether failing to provide all relevant information about the sustainability of a product or service–for example, whether it’s highly polluting or non-recyclable–could mislead consumers and therefore break consumer law.
The CMA is looking across a wide range of sectors, although it is likely to focus on those industries where consumers appear most concerned about misleading claims, including textiles and fashion, travel and transport, and fast-moving consumer goods (food and beverages, beauty products and cleaning products).
The aim is to better understand the impact of green marketing on consumers, in line with the commitment made in its annual plan. The CMA therefore called on the public to have their say via surveys on what they expect from eco-friendly products, how often they come across green claims, and how these claims affect their purchasing decisions. It is also consulting with charities, businesses and other organizations to get a clearer picture of the issues in this area.
“Increasing numbers of people are quite rightly concerned about the environment and want to play their part by being greener. Our role is to make sure that consumers can trust the claims they see on products for sale and don’t fork out extra for items falsely presented as eco-friendly. We know that many businesses will be looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and we strongly support this, but the claims they make must not mislead consumers in the process. 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,” says Dr. Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA.
Dr. Andrea Coscelli, CMA
Although UK marketing practices will be the focus of the CMA’s examination, the CMA also wants to take a leading role in looking at green claims in a global context. Work will be carried out alongside the Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets, as part of a project with ICPEN (the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network). In that context the CMA co-ordinated a ‘sweep’ of randomly selected websites with ICPEN members between 9 and 20 November, with the aim of identifying the types of misleading green claims being made around the world.
As a result the CMA wants to publish a consumer protection law guidance in summer 2021.
It also intends to publish guidance for businesses next summer to help them support the transition to a low carbon economy without misleading consumers. At this early stage, the CMA has not reached a view as to whether or not consumer protection law has been broken. However, if it finds evidence that businesses are misleading consumers, then it will take appropriate action in accordance with the law.