What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is used to describe the practice of companies launching adverts, campaigns, products etc., under the pretence that they are environmentally beneficial. In other words, environmental claims are made which suggest that a product, service, process, brand, or business is better for the environment.
They include claims that suggest or create the impression that a product or a service:
- has a positive environmental impact or no impact on the environment,
- is less damaging to the environment than a previous version of the same good or service; or
- is less damaging to the environment than competing goods or services.
However, sometimes certain claims are often in contradiction to their environmental and sustainability record in general.
What are Misleading Green Claims?
Environmental claims are genuine when they properly describe the impact of the product, service, process, brand, or business, and do not hide or misrepresent crucial information.
Meanwhile, misleading environmental claims happen where a business makes claims about its products, services, processes, brands, or its operations as a whole, or omits or hides information, to give the impression they are less harmful or more beneficial to the environment than they really are.
Why Do Companies Greenwash?
Companies apply greenwashing techniques to the promotion of their products to appeal to the environmentally conscious consumer.
Awareness of greenwashing has increased in recent years. This is because of rising demand for environmentally sustainable products and much-needed transparency that goes hand in hand with ethical consumption. However, as public consciousness of environmental issues rises so does the temptation for companies and organisations to greenwash.
What Does Consumer Protection Law Require Businesses to Do?
Consumer protection law ensures that consumers can make informed choices about the products and services they buy. It does not require businesses to offer green products or services to consumers, nor set specific rules on environmental claims.
Consumer protection law covers what businesses say, and how they present it, and also what they fail to say about the environmental impacts or credentials of their goods, services, brands, and activities.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has outlined the criteria they deem best practice in which the effect of the law is that businesses must ensure that their environmental claims:
(a) Are truthful and accurate.
(b) Are clear and unambiguous.
(c) Do not omit or hide important.
(d) Compare goods or services in a fair and meaningful way.
(e) Consider the full life cycle of the product or service.
(f) Are substantiated.
What Happens If Businesses Do Not Comply with Consumer Protection Law?
If a business does not comply with consumer protection law, the CMA, and other bodies, such as Trading Standards, can bring court action against the company in question.
In some cases, businesses may be required to pay redress to any consumers harmed by the breach of consumer protection law.
The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) could also act against misleading advertisements that contravene the codes of the Committee of Advertising Practise (CAP) or the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practise (BCAP).
As a consumer, you may also pursue individual legal action against businesses as a response to their conduct or seek redress in the courts for certain breaches of consumer protection law.
If you are thinking of doing this, it may be best to raise a complaint with the business first and see if a suitable agreement can be made informally. If this fails and you decide to pursue legal proceedings, you should consult a solicitor for advice in advance of doing this.
If you acquire assistance in finding a solicitor, you can check out the Law Society of Scotland | Law Society of Scotland (lawscot.org.uk) website to do this.
Trading Standards Scotland are running their Misleading Energy Marketing Campaign in partnership with Home Energy Scotland. The campaign is running between the 15th and 22nd of November 2021, with the purpose of raising awareness of the ways in which consumers can protect themselves from misleading energy efficiency and environmental claims, such as “green scams” and rogue traders. More information on the campaign is available by visiting their campaign page.