The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced it will investigate descriptions and labels used to promote products and services claiming to be ‘eco-friendly’, and whether they could mislead consumers.
The CMA said it will look across a wide range of sectors, but will focus on industries where consumers appear most concerned about misleading claims, such as textiles and fashion. The investigation comes in response to an increased awareness of environmental issues, and the growing number of products and services being marketed as environmentally friendly.
The CMA said “it is concerned that 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”.
Examples of misleading behaviour could include: exaggerating the positive environmental impact of a product or service, using complex or jargon-heavy language and implying that items are eco-friendly through packaging and logos when this is not true. The CMA will also consider whether failing to provide all relevant information about the sustainability of a product or service – whether it’s highly polluting or non-recyclable for example – could mislead consumers and therefore break consumer law.
As part of its investigation, the CMA will consult with charities, businesses and other organisations to get a clearer picture of the issues in this area and, following these discussions, intends to publish guidance for businesses next summer to help them support the transition to a low carbon economy without misleading consumers. The CMA has also launched a consumer survey enabling the public to have their say on what they expect from eco-friendly products, how often they come across green claims, and how these claims affect their purchasing decisions – to complete the survey, visit imagesmag.uk/CMA-ecofriendly-survey.
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, commented: “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.”
Although UK marketing practices will be the focus of its investigation, the CMA will also look 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 the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN). From 9-20 November, the CMA will co-ordinate a ‘sweep’ of randomly selected websites with ICPEN members, with the aim of identifying the types of misleading green claims being made around the world.
At this early stage, the CMA said it 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.