supermarket greenwashing

Competition watchdog to clamp down on ‘greenwashing’ by household brands

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Everyday products that claim to be ‘sustainable’ or ‘better for the environment’ may be making misleading claims, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned.

Shoppers spent over £130bn on ‘fast-moving consumer goods’ (FMCG) last year, which includes household essentials like food and drink, cleaning products, and personal care items.

A significant number of these are marketed as green or environmentally friendly, including up to 91 per cent of all dishwashing items and 100 per cent of toilet products, the CMA said.

The body is launching a review into whether these claims are justifiable as part of an expansion into its ongoing work into ‘greenwashing’, which seeks to get to the bottom of whether products and services that claim to be green or eco-friendly are being marketed to shoppers accurately.

The review will examine a range of essential items used by people on a daily basis and repurchased regularly.

In 2021, the average household spent almost £70 a week on food and drink alone, and the FMCG sector as a whole is worth over £130bn annually.

The CMA will analyse environmental claims made about such products – both online and in store – to consider whether companies are complying with UK consumer protection law.

It said some of the concerning practices it had found were the use of vague and broad eco-statements for example packaging or marketing a product as ‘sustainable’ or ‘better for the environment’ with no evidence. There were also misleading claims about the use of recycled or natural materials in a product and how recyclable it is; and entire ranges being incorrectly branded as ‘sustainable’.

Sarah Cardell, chief executive of the CMA, said: “These products are the essentials on everyone’s shopping lists: food and drink, shampoo, laundry detergent, toothpaste, cleaning products.

“As more people than ever try to do their bit to help protect the environment, we’re concerned many shoppers are being misled and potentially even paying a premium for products that aren’t what they seem, especially at a time when the cost of living continues to rise.”

“Our work to date has shown there could be greenwashing going on in this sector, and we’ll be scrutinising companies big and small to see whether their environmental claims stack up. Now is a good time for businesses to review their practices and make sure they’re operating within the law.”

In January 2022, the CMA turned its eye to the fashion sector, launching enforcement action against well-known fashion brands ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda over their sustainability claims.

The CMA also produced the Green Claims Code – a guide to help businesses understand how to communicate their green credentials, while avoiding the risk of misleading shoppers.

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