Businesses making sustainability-related statements should review and evaluate claims made across their marketing and PR channels as the Green Claims Code comes into force.
As well as growing reputational risks if they are perceived to be greenwashing, companies may end up in the firing line of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) as a result of the Green Claims Code and underlying consumer protection law. Avoiding inaccuracies or exaggerations in your sustainability communications has never been so vital.
The review of the Green Claims Code, which was published in September 2021, follows the CMA’s finding that up to 40% of environmental claims may be misleading for consumers. In recent years, customers seeking anything from beauty products to cleaning supplies will have noticed that more and more products claim to reduce environmental harm or promise more sustainable ingredients than competitor products. All too often, these statements are unsubstantiated or inflated.
The CMA’s focus may be on fashion and fast-moving consumer goods in the first instance. However, the guidance applies across the board including for non-consumer facing or services businesses, if they make claims which relate to sustainability. As such, all businesses should evaluate their ‘green claims’ in light of the code and consider if they are meeting their obligations.
What does the Green Claims Code mean for my business’ PR campaigns?
According to the CMA, all environmental claims must be truthful and accurate; unambiguous; substantiated and consider the full life cycle of the product or service. Comparisons must be fair and meaningful, and claims must not omit or hide relevant information. These are the criteria that the CMA will use when reviewing claims.
This video from the CMA has more information about the Green Claims Code.
To prepare, there are several steps your business should take to ensure you do not fall foul of the requirements. Even if the Code does not appear immediately relevant to your business, these steps can also be helpful as companies seek to change their operating models and principles to become more sustainable.
1. Identify your environmental claims
Conduct a thorough review of all ‘claims’ relating to the environment, sustainability, carbon emissions or social responsibility actions. This should cover packaging, marketing materials, website copy and encompass visual representations as well as text. For example, if you use a recycling icon to illustrate a product when the entire product is not recyclable, the icon could be an infringement as it creates a misleading effect for the consumer.
In the services and B2B sectors, businesses should also pay particular attention to the use of words such as ‘green’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco-friendly’. As the Code states, these terms could be seen to suggest that a product or service has a positive environmental impact – or “at least no adverse impact”. Such claims must be provable, or they may not meet legal obligations.
2. Update your language and links
As claims must be substantiated and must not hide information, the Green Claims Code states that definitions and clarifications should be provided via a single click-through link.
This means that in addition to reviewing materials relating to sustainability and environmental claims, underlying links and evidence need to be reviewed too. For many businesses, the implications of this could be far-reaching. You may need to consider web design, the layout of marketing materials or advertising content in order to make space for the relevant proof points about your product, service or company sustainability strategy.
3. Upskill your team
Compliance with the Green Claims Code will not be static. It is likely that whatever your sector, the number of references to sustainable practices and products will change and increase over time. It is therefore vital to equip teams – across marketing, communications, product development, compliance and more – with the necessary understanding of the Code. They must also use the underlying sustainability evidence which is relevant to your business.
4. Consider external support
Preparing for Green Claims Code compliance may seem like a daunting challenge. A range of external support may be suitable: legal expertise to sense check your claims, accreditation via schemes such as BCorp or Investors in the Environment, or Sustainability & ESG PR consultancy support to refresh your messaging.
But as well as becoming a legal requirement, the introduction of the Code can provide an opportunity to refresh and evaluate sustainability messaging and ensure it is fit for purpose for the future.
No longer can companies rely on the terms ‘green’ or ‘eco’ to tell the story of a product or service. Instead, they must dig deeper and consider how a product genuinely contributes to sustainability or could be altered or improved to have a positive impact.