As businesses across most sectors see the marketing benefits of appearing environmentally responsible (57% of UK consumers are willing to pay more for ‘environmentally friendly’ products), the temptation to over-emphasise, vaguely word, and in extreme cases, blatantly lie has for some, become too alluring.

‘Greenwashing’ is now a common phrase in the industry and in society with companies of all sizes engaging in it and being called out for it.

Although there is existing regulation by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), sceptics claim it is ineffective, diminishing the power of the consumer to drive companies toward greener behaviour.

Last year the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), implemented the Green Claims Code to ensure that environmental claims made by businesses comply with the consumer protection law.

These Green Claims Code rules are as such:

  • Claims must be truthful and accurate. Even a factually correct claim could mislead. Businesses should make sure statements are truthful and don’t lead customers astray.
  • Claims must be clear and unambiguous. Straightforward, simple and transparent wording is important.
  • Claims must not omit or hide important information. The product should communicate the green claim in a way that keeps the user fully informed.
  • Claims must only make fair and meaningful comparisons. When comparing products with others the comparison must be based on equal and unbiased measurements.
  • Claims must consider the full-life cycle of the product. The entire lifetime of the product, from cradle to grave or cradle to cradle may be relevant to the green claim.
  • Claims on green products must be substantiated. Claims should be backed up with scientific evidence and data.

But what does it all mean?

Businesses found to be in breach of consumer law can face civil action or criminal prosecution. Breach of the Green Claims Code could therefore result in criminal liability for directors and other officers of corporate bodies. Consumers also have a civil right of redress which might result in financial liabilities.

The damage to brand, reputation and sales is also very real.

What do marketers need to do?

  1. Conduct a comms audit – De-risk your sustainability communications, auditing your existing claims and ensuring they are compliant.
  2. Get clued up on your sustainability policy – The Code requires you to provide a lot more sustainability information than you may have been used to in the past. To ensure that all your claims are ‘clear and unambiguous’, you should know your policy.
  3. Adapt your comms strategy – The Green Claims Code needs to be embedded into your marketing and comms strategy going forward, and you’ll need to find innovative new ways to convey sometimes complex information in an accessible and compliant way.
  4. Revisit your user experience – Sustainability evidence should be made available by a single click-through link. Make it seamless for customers to understand exactly what you mean and get more information without having to abandon the user journey.
  5. Select the right agency – You’ll need to communicate your sustainability credentials with your customers clearly, accurately and with evidence – which means that you will need to select a marketing agency that is up to speed with the Green Claims Code and will ensure that your communications are hitting best practise.