Forest trees looking upwards

4-in-10 ‘eco-friendly’ claims could be misleading

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The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and its Dutch counterpart have led an annual sweep of websites which has found that 40 per cent of green claims made online could be misleading consumers.

The International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN) carries out an annual sweep of websites to give consumer authorities an opportunity to target unfair conduct online, such as deception and fraud. This year, the sweep was led by consumer protection authorities from the UK and the Netherlands, and focused on misleading green claims.

Almost 500 randomly selected websites promoting products and services across a range of sectors, including fashion, beauty and food, have been analysed. ICPEN members found that 40 per cent of these websites appeared to be using tactics which could be considered misleading to the point of breaking consumer law.

This included vague and unclear claims including terms such as 'eco', 'sustainable' or 'natural' without explanation or evidence; eco logos and labels not associated with accredited organisations; and hiding or omitting certain information, such as a product’s pollution levels, to appear more sustainable.

“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,” said Andrea Coscelli, who leads the CMA. “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 results of the investigation will be used to inform the CMA’s ongoing investigation into misleading green marketing, along with a survey of businesses and consumers. The watchdog will publish guidance for UK businesses later this year in order to support transitions to a low-carbon economy – in line with the legally binding target of the UK reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – while ensuring that consumers are well-informed.

At this stage, ICPEN members have not reached a conclusion as to whether vague claims, own-brand eco labels, and omission of information constitute violations of consumer protection law. However, the CMA states that if it finds evidence that businesses are misleading consumers in the UK, it will take appropriate action.

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