The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into descriptions and labels used to promote products and services claiming to be ‘eco-friendly’ and whether they could mislead consumers.
UK consumers spent £41 billion a year on ‘ethical’ goods and services in 2019 – almost four times as much as people spent two decades ago.
The competition watchdog’s new programme of work is in response to the growing number of products and services bring marketed as environmentally-friendly.
The CMA is concerned the surge in demand for green products and services could incentivise some businesses to make misleading, vague or false claims about the sustainability credentials or environmental impact of the things they sell.
Some examples of misleading behaviour include exaggerating the positive environmental impacts of a product or service, using complex or jargon-heavy language and implying items are eco-friendly through packaging and logos when this is not true.
The CMA will also consider whether failing to provide all relevant information about the sustainability of a product or service – for example, whether it is highly polluting or non-recyclable – could mislead consumers and therefore break consumer law.
The watchdog will examine a wide range of sectors, although it is likely to focus on those industries where consumers appear “most concerned about misleading claims”, including textiles and fashion, travel and transport and fast-moving consumer goods such as food and beverages, beauty products and cleaning products.
It wants to better understand the impact of green marketing on consumers and is therefore calling on the public to have their say on what they expect from eco-friendly products, how often they come across green claims and how these claims affect their purchasing decisions.
It is also consulting with charities, businesses and other organisations to get a clearer picture of the issues in this area.
Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA 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.”
The CMA intends to publish guidance for businesses next summer to help them support the transition to a low carbon economy without misleading consumers, following the discussions.
It will take action if it finds evidence that businesses have been or are misleading consumers.