The Green Claims Code in a nutshell | #SustainabilityMonth

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Some 28% of consumers stop purchasing certain brands or products for ethical or sustainability-related concerns. To help that sink in, it’s nearly 1 in 3 consumers, and definitely more than a quarter. These findings by Deloitte shook the agency world as other concurrent surveys came out confirming these numbers.

The gist is that consumers are more environmentally conscious than ever. 61% are limiting their use of single-use plastics, and nearly half (45%) are buying more locally produced goods to help the planet. So it makes sense that the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has developed something called The Green Claims Code – a list of 6 key points to check your environmental claims are genuinely green.

What is the Green Claims Code and why should advertising agencies and brands care?

What is the Green Claims Code?

According to the CMA, up to 40% of green claims made online could be misleading. The Green Claims Code aims to help advertisers ensure their green claims are genuine and are not misleading the consumer.

The Green Claims Code should interest every single advertiser in the UK, and hopefully those beyond the territory as well. Oatly and Innocent made the headlines recently after their ads were banned by the ASA for false or misleading environmental claims. There is a lot of confusion around environmental claims, and there is always the chance of being accused of greenwashing.

The Green Claims Code aims to regulate the way environmental claims are made by businesses in the UK. Many companies use ‘green claims’ to help market their products, and these claims can appear in many forms, including logos, statements, graphics, colours and product names. The Green Claims Code should act as a framework, a guideline, a way to help businesses market their products correctly by checking the solidity of their green claims.

What does the Green Claims Code say?

The Green Claims Code is quite straightforward and it includes a list of 6 key points advertisers can follow to check their claims against the code.

Here are the 6 points, as they appear on the official UK government website:

1. Be truthful and accurate

“Businesses must live up to the claims they make about their products, services, brands and activities.”

Is your claim accurate? Is there up-to-date, credible evidence that you can use to show how truthful your claim is (more on that later)?

This is the core of the Green Claims Code, and the number one rule you should follow when making a green claim.

2. Be clear and unambiguous

“The meaning that a consumer is likely to take from a product’s messaging and the credentials of that product should match.”

Your green claim should be clear for everybody to understand. You should never mislead consumers by making ambiguous claims or being inaccurate in what you say. Your claim should tell the whole story of a product or service, or relate to one part without misleading people about the other parts.

In other words, if you claim that your new drink is created in a 100% sustainable way because you only source ingredients locally, but then you package it in single-use plastics, there is a problem. The environmental impact of your product should be clear in all its parts. This also means that your claim should not contain partially correct or incorrect aspects or conditions about your product.

3. Do not omit or hide important information

“Claims must not prevent someone from making an informed choice because of the information they leave out.”

Whenever you make a green claim, you should never omit something that people need to make informed choices. The claim should not hide important information that would otherwise push a customer in one direction or another.

This ties really well into the second point of the Code. If your product isn’t entirely as sustainable as it could be, your claim should say so. Yes, you may lose some consumers, but others will still choose to buy if you’re transparent and honest about the life cycle of your product.

It’s not enough to say that you have a sustainable collection of clothing in store. What is your collection made of? How’s the life cycle of the product? What happens to returns? Is it made locally, or outsourced? If there’s something important that may influence a customer decision, do not omit it – and most importantly, do not, ever, in any circumstance, lie about it.

4. Only make fair and meaningful comparisons

“Any products compared should meet the same needs or be intended for the same purpose.”

In other words, compare like for like. Don’t use a sneakers example to sell your almond milk (sorry – ‘drink’. The milk lobby may get offended). You have to be fair, clear and accurate in all your claims, so that anyone reading you will understand what you’re saying.

And a little side note in the interest of fairness: if you have some extra information that doesn’t fit into the label or green claim, consider redirecting customers to a landing page via a QR code. It makes wonders.

5. Consider the full life cycle of the product

“When making claims, businesses must consider the total impact of a product or service. Claims can be misleading where they don’t reflect the overall impact or where they focus on one aspect of it but not another.”

We’ve already touched upon this point in the ones above, and it’s quite straightforward: where general claims are being made (eco-friendly, sustainable, green etc.), the claim should reflect the entire life cycle of the product, service, or brand, and substantiated by evidence.

You should never exaggerate a product’s positive environmental impact, nor contain anything untrue – whether stated or implied. And, if your product or service has necessary standard features or legal requirements, these should not be listed as a green claim. That sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised. Your product isn’t more sustainable if it complies to law by standard! To use standard requirements as a selling point is hugely misleading.

6. Be substantiated

“Businesses should be able to back up their claims with robust, credible and up to date evidence.”

If the first point represents the core of the Green Claims Code, this last one should act as the skeleton of every single claim. You should never claim something without having the necessary evidence to back it up.

This means that, if you’re selling a feature, you should be able to demonstrate why that feature is more environmentally-friendly than others. If your product delivers a positive environmental impact, you should have substantial evidence to back up that claim.

You may not be familiar with the principles of journalism, but it is journalism 101: never make an unsubstantiated claim. People will spot it, point it out, and you’ll be in trouble in no time.

Additional resources

This, in a nutshell, was the Green Claims Code. It’s really nothing too difficult to understand, and the key concept to keep in mind is the one of transparency. If you’re transparent, honest and substantiated in all your claims, you can’t go wrong with the Green Claims Code.

But if you’re not used to being transparent and honest (no judging here), there are of course some additional resources from the government that can help you out. The main Green Claims Code government page is a gold mine in that sense of course, and there you will find some additional guidance to help you make your environmental claims fair, honest and transparent.

Here are some links to wrap up this guide:

Header image: Competition & Markets Authority


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