Greenwashing: Are some businesses’ online green claims misleading consumers?

Latest research has found four in 10 websites appeared to be making claims that were ‘exaggerated, false or deceptive’ and could potentially qualify as unfair commercial practices, breaking consumer law

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Are some businesses making claims to be ‘green’ and ‘environmentally-friendly’ online but are actually misleading consumers?

The latest screening of randomly-selected global websites, also known as a sweep, has found around 40% of the green claims made by businesses online could be misleading consumers.

The International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN) hosts an annual sweep of websites, the latest of which was led by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM), focusing on misleading environmental claims or ‘greenwashing’ for the first time.

Greenwashing is the practice by which companies claim they are doing more for the environment than they actually are.

The latest sweep analysed almost 500 websites promoting products and services across a range of sectors, including clothing, cosmetics and household equipment.

It found four in 10 of these websites appeared to be making claims that were “exaggerated, false or deceptive” and could potentially qualify as unfair commercial practices, breaking consumer law.

In more than half of the cases, the company did not provide sufficient information for consumers to judge the claim’s accuracy while in many cases, the claim included vague and general statements such as ‘conscious’, ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘sustainable’, without adequate explanation or evidence of the claims.

In addition, own brand eco logos and labels were not associated with an accredited organisation and some websites were “hiding or omitting” certain information, such as a product’s pollution levels, to appear more eco-friendly.

The results of the international sweep will be used to inform the CMA’s ongoing investigation, alongside results from a CMA survey of businesses and consumers, who were invited to have their say on ‘green’ products and marketing last November.

CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said: “Too many websites appear to be pushing misleading claims onto consumers, which means that companies offering products with a genuine environmental benefit are not getting the customers they deserve. People should be able to easily choose between those companies who are doing the right thing for the environment and those who are not.

“This is a global issue so it’s only right that we look at it in a global context. Our joint work with other regulators will help us identify the big issues facing consumers and protect people from paying a premium for fake ‘eco-friendly’ products.”

The CMA will publish guidance for UK businesses later this year to help them support the transition to a low carbon economy whilst ensuring consumers get the information they need.