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Government watchdog to investigate "eco-friendly" claims

Gaelle Walker
05 November 2020

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is launching an investigation into the validity of “eco-friendly” products and services, amid concerns that the growing consumer appetite for sustainable goods could be incentivising some businesses to make misleading claims.

The investigation into descriptions and labels will lead to the publication of new guidance for business and comes as UK spending on ethical goods and services continues to soar, with £41bn spent in 2019 alone - almost four times more than two decades ago, the CMA said.

CMA research and evidence from other enforcers has raised concerns that this surge in demand for green products and services could be prompting some businesses to make vague or false claims about the sustainability or environmental impact of the things they sell, it said.

Examples of misleading behaviour could include:

  • exaggerating the positive environmental impact of a product or service
  • using complex or jargon-heavy language
  • implying that items are eco-friendly through packaging and logos when this is not true

As part of its work, the CMA will also consider whether failing to provide all relevant information about the sustainability of a product or service – for example, whether it’s highly polluting or non-recyclable – could mislead consumers and therefore break consumer law.

The CMA investigation will include a keen focus on textiles, fashion and fast-moving consumer goods including beauty, cleaning products and food and drinks, as these are the sectors where consumers appear to be “most concerned about misleading claims,” it said.

It is also calling on consumers to have their say on what they expect from eco-friendly products in a bid to better understand the impact of green marketing.

Consumers are being asked to tell it how often they come across green claims and how these claims affect their purchasing decisions.

The CMA will also consult with charities, businesses and other organisations to get a clearer picture of the issues in this area.

Its investigation will lead to the publication of new guidance for businesses next summer.

At this early stage, the CMA has not reached a view as to whether or not consumer protection law has been broken, it said.

However, if it finds evidence that businesses are misleading consumers, then it will take appropriate action, it added.

Chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “Increasing numbers of people are quite rightly concerned about the environment and want to play their part by being greener.

“Our role is to make sure that consumers can trust the claims they see on products for sale and don’t fork out extra for items falsely presented as eco-friendly.

“We know that many businesses will be looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and we strongly support this, but the claims they make must not mislead consumers in the process. 

“It’s important that people can easily choose between those who are doing the right thing for the environment and those who are not, so that businesses genuinely investing in going green can be properly rewarded by their customers.”

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