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40% of firms’ green claims ‘could be misleading’

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

A Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) co-ordinated global review of randomly selected websites has so far found that 40% of green claims made online could be misleading consumers.

The International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN) hosts an annual sweep of websites, which gives consumer authorities across the world the opportunity to target fraudulent, deceptive or unfair conduct online.

The CMA and The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) led the latest sweep, focusing on misleading environmental claims for the first time.

This comes as the CMA’s own investigation into misleading environmental claims is ongoing, to better understand the impact of green marketing on consumers.

As part of the international sweep, ICPEN members have so far analysed almost 500 websites promoting products and services across a range of sectors, including clothes, cosmetics and food.

Members found that 4 in 10 of these websites appeared to be using tactics that could be considered misleading and therefore potentially break consumer law. These included:

  • Vague claims and unclear language including terms such as ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’ or reference to ‘natural products’ without adequate explanation or evidence of the claims.
  • Own brand eco logos and labels not associated with an accredited organisation.
  • Hiding or omitting certain information, such as a product’s pollution levels, to appear more eco-friendly.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, 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 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.

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

At this early stage, ICPEN members have not reached a view as to whether or not consumer protection law has been broken. However, if the CMA finds evidence that businesses are misleading UK consumers, it will take appropriate action.

All updates on the CMA’s work in this area can be found on the Misleading Environmental Claims case page.