How to avoid Greenwashing with the Green Claims Code

Nicole Lummis
April 22, 2024

In September 2021, The UK Competition Markets Authority launched the Green Claims Code to ensure that environmental claims made by businesses and organisations are accurate and a true depiction of the company’s values and actions. Its purpose is to help eradicate the new wave of corporate greenwashing that has occurred in recent years since consumers have become more environmentally conscious, therefore demanding more ethical and environmentally conscious products and services.

greenwashing

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a business or marketing tactic that creates the illusion an organisation is more environmentally conscious than it is. The Cambridge Dictionary definition of greenwashing is ‘to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.’

The term greenwashing was coined in 1986 by American Environmentalist Jay Westerveld in response to a sign in a Fiji hotel asking its customers to reuse their towels. The sign explained that the oceans and reefs are an ‘important resource,’ and that reusing the towels would ‘reduce ecological damage.’ Westerveld recalls to The Guardian being struck by the note’s irony, as at the time, the hotel was expanding and building more bungalows on the land, and he felt they did not really care for the environment.

Another early example of greenwashing also dates to the mid-1980s, when the oil company Chevron released an ad campaign called ‘People Do’. The campaign aimed to convince the public that Chevron’s operations helped the environment to thrive. It showed Chevron employees protecting a range of animals and wildlife including bears, butterflies, sea turtles and more. At the time of releasing their ads, Chevron had violated the Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act and had spilt oil into wildlife shelters. This was named by environmental activists as the ‘gold standard’ in greenwashing.

Avoiding greenwashing whilst promoting your sustainability credentials

As the rise in greenwashing continues, so does coverage on the topic and many large organisations have been outed publicly for their actions. In a panel discussion on ‘How to tell your sustainability story right’ at SUSTx 2022, Cecilia Parker-Aranha, Consumer Group Director at the Competition Markets Authority, highlighted a key issue facing organisations is that many are too scared to promote their environmental benefits or sustainability credentials through fear of greenwashing or making false claims. This creates a tricky landscape for organisations wanting to do the right thing, as well as consumers who are trying to make environmentally conscious buying choices.

So how can we prevent greenwashing in our organisations and ensure the environmental claims we are making are  truthful and compliant?

Green Claims Code

The Green Claims Code was not just developed to prevent organisations from greenwashing, it was also put together to provide support and guidance to organisations on the best way to demonstrate their environmental claims and green credentials.

To give organisations clear and easy guidelines to comply, the Competition Markets Authority produced these 6 key principles:

  • Claims must be truthful and accurate
  • Claims must be clear and unambiguous
  • Claims must not omit or hide important relevant information
  • Comparisons must be fair and meaningful
  • Claims must consider the full life cycle of the product or service
  • Claims must be substantiated

Following the key principles of the Green Claims Code allows businesses to make genuine, honest green claims and ensures that those who do not comply with this face legal action.

Implementing the Green Claims Code

Although the key principles of the Green Claims Code may seem simple, work must be done to ensure that these are implemented across all business communications. Here are some tips to implement the Green Claims Code and avoid greenwashing:

Make claims clear and easy to understand

Green Claims should be transparent and clearly defined. Avoid the use of jargon or vague and misleading language.

Back up your claims with evidence

Ensure any claims made are backed with credible and up-to-date evidence using recognised standards such as ISO.

Think of your whole supply chain – not just your operations

Scope 3 emissions can make up to 80% of an organisation’s emissions, so when making a claim, ensure this includes the full supply chain.

Ensure branding and imagery is not misleading

Avoid using terms such as ‘eco-friendly,’ ‘green’ or imagery with trees and nature  if you cannot back the claims you are making.

Make fair comparisons

Comparisons between your product and another should be like for like and should be verified and measured using the same metrics.

Do not hide vital information

Even if you do have some valid environmental claims, these should not mask other areas of the business which may negatively affect the environment.

These are just a few tips on how to comply with the Green Claims Code and avoid greenwashing in your organisation. Although navigating this can feel overwhelming, it is important for businesses to take green claims seriously to receive credit where it is due, as well as avoiding damaging brand reputation by being outed by consumers or the CMA.

For more information on sustainable marketing and communications, watch the SUSTx 2022 session ‘How to tell your sustainability story right’ which brings together Cecilia Parker-Aranha from The UK Competition Markets Authority, Gemma Butler from the Chartered Institute of Marketing and Karen Fraser from Ipsos.

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