Did you know that as many as “40% of green claims made online could be misleading consumers”? It’s a staggeringly high figure. Trying to persuade your target audience that “products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly” when that isn’t completely correct, is called ‘“greenwashing”. You need to avoid this at all costs.
The new UK Green Claims Code was introduced by the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) in September 2021 to tackle precisely this problem. Its main aims are to protect consumers and to educate businesses on this matter. Crucially, it applies to all businesses along the supply chain, even external parties, such as product manufacturers or wholesalers.
I’ve discussed what this means for B2B and B2C businesses in more detail in a separate article. Today’s post, however, is especially aimed at social media managers/marketers and ads managers, who need to be aware of this change. It’s important to inform yourself and your clients, so you and they can avoid any misleading green claims and fines.
Disclaimer: This post is meant to be a helpful quick guide, but I assume no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in its content. Please ensure you read the full text of the Code and seek independent legal advice if necessary.
What are the six principles of the Green Claims Code?
According to the Code, all eco-friendly claims made by a business must:
- be accurate and truthful;
- be clear and unambiguous;
- compare goods or services in a fair and meaningful way;
- not omit/hide any relevant information;
- consider the full life cycle of the product or service; and
- be substantiated.
In short, you mustn’t make environmental claims that aren’t true or are only partially true, and you must provide proof for any statements you make.
What happens if the Code is breached?
Breaching the Code can have massive financial and reputational consequences. Compliance Week warns about “court proceedings with unlimited fines”, the possibility of having to “pay redress to any consumers harmed” and also “the potential for individuals to face jail sentences of up to two years for unfair trading.”
So, it’s essential to take the Green Claims Code seriously – and to make sure all members of the supply chain do, too.
How can you protect yourself and your business? Start with the following tips.
Tip 1: Read the Code and inform your clients
Send a link to the Code to any relevant clients you work with, explaining its importance. Feel free to also link to this article or a more general overview. (It’s surprising how many businesses haven’t come across this new piece of legislation yet!)
As the Code applies to all members of the supply chain, your client will need to obtain evidence from these to substantiate any environmental claims.
Finally, businesses need to comply not just with the new Green Claims Code, but with other existing regulations and legislations, so you may want to send them information about these as well.
Test yourself: you can take a short quiz on the Green Claims Code to check whether you’ve understood it correctly!
Tip 2: Check your copy and images
From January 2022, the CMA has been actively scrutinising UK businesses for any false green claims they may have made, with an initial special focus on the following industries:
- Fashion and textiles
- Travel and transport
- Consumer goods (for example, beauty and cleaning products, food and drink).
Watch your words…
Greenwashing often starts with simple words, such as “eco-friendly”, “green”, “natural”, “sustainable”, “organic”, “recyclable” or “environmentally friendly”.
Be on your guard if you spot any of these terms in your or your clients’ copy.
Let’s say you’re creating a Facebook ad for liquid hand soap. Your client has asked you to use the terms “natural” and “recyclable” in the ad copy. If only e.g. 10% of ingredients are natural (they may use cocoa butter but lots of other chemical ingredients) and if only parts of the soap’s container are fully recyclable, these terms are false and break the Green Claims Code.
You’re being asked to promote “organic” and “sustainable” textiles for a mainstream fashion brand. A product is not fully sustainable if any member of its supply chain uses unsustainable production methods or ingredients. Unfortunately, there are many unfounded sustainability claims, so watch out for these.
Similarly, if e.g. only 5% of the yarn used in a dress is organic, it’s misleading to label the whole item “organic”. You could potentially use the words “Made with 5% organic cotton”, though as the percentage is so small, this could well be seen as an attempt to greenwash, too.
Your client asks you to create social media ads and posts that compare their product with other brands. You need to be very careful if your text or images imply or outright state that your product is more environmentally friendly than product X.
Do you have hard proof that this is really true for the whole lifecycle of the product? Fair and meaningful comparisons are essential. Note that “any products compared should meet the same needs or be intended for the same purpose”.
In all cases, it’s important to substantiate any claims in detail. Proof also needs to be easily accessible for the consumer (ideally, a maximum of one click away).
Check your visuals for environmental claims
You’ll also need to check any logos, images, diagrams, artwork, symbols, colour schemes and any “express statements” that imply green credentials or suggest a positive environmental impact. For example:
- A wrapper in a green colour scheme suggesting nature or eco-friendliness
- Green ticks, “environmentally-friendly” symbols, logos or slogans
- Any artwork that implies eco-friendliness
Tip 3: Be thorough and protect yourself
You can find some information on the Green Claims website about who may be liable in case misleading claims are made. The answers to the Green Claims quiz mentioned above tell us a bit more about this:
- “Businesses, including manufacturers and those further up the supply chain that engage in commercial practices directly connected with promoting the sale or supply of products to consumers, are responsible for the impact of those practices.”
- Claims can be about “goods or services, or particular components or aspects of them. […] They may also be made about a brand or business as a whole.”
- “If the claims are ultimately aimed at consumers, this guidance will apply, even if the claims are made by a manufacturer who does not have direct contact with a consumer. Retailers should therefore assure themselves that any claims made by manufacturers are accurate and not misleading.”
- “The guidance also applies to businesses marketing to other businesses.”
In addition, do get legal advice that is tailored to your specific situation.
What does this mean for social media managers and marketers?
Given that you’re marketing your clients’ goods or services, I feel it’s better to be safe than sorry. Having checked the relevant web and social media copy, and familiarised yourself with the product or service you have been asked to promote on social media, check the following:
- Which “green” terms, logos, symbols, slogans or other visuals are being used?
- Is there proof / a detailed explanation of these terms online and/or on the packaging (if applicable)? Creating a glossary and a detailed environmental impact web page might be a good idea.
- Is all of this evidence easily accessible in one place (ideally max. 1 click away if online)?
- Are symbols and logos officially accredited (e.g. recycling symbols)?
- Can you spot any potentially misleading environmental claims? (e.g. the statement “We don’t use microbeads!” on a rinse-off shower gel is deceptive, as microbeads are banned in the UK for all such products anyway.)
- Are products or services compared with others in a potentially unfair way?
Go through these questions and the Green Claims Checklist, then make sure you inform your client of any findings. You certainly don’t want to be held responsible for creating any ads, posts or other marketing materials your client (and you) may get in trouble with.
Also, point them to further tips on how to train themselves and how to review their communications strategy and online presence (including reviewing relevant SEO keywords).
If your client is not receptive to making changes, you are potentially putting yourself at risk, as you may be complicit in greenwashing if you proceed.
|Get legal advice as soon as possible. Your insurance company also may offer a legal advice helpline you could use.|
Tip 4: Learn more
As we’ve seen, truthful and accurate claims are key. Luckily, there are some training resources available that help you avoid greenwashing. They include, for example:
- CIM’s Green Claims Code webinar (free)
- IPA’s Ad Net Zero Essentials Certificate Course (£120 for non-members)
- CIM’s The Sustainable Marketer course (£575 for non-members)
Written by Claudia Kozeny-Pelling
SEO content writer, translator & social media marketing consultant,
Translate Digital Marketing Ltd