The Green Claims Code: How to avoid greenwashing

Big names in almost every sector have been named and shamed for misleading customers with green claims. And with fashion earmarked as the first industry to come under scrutiny by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), we can expect more companies to face public scrutiny.

The thing is, being green sells, and companies are working hard to highlight how their product or service is beneficial or less harmful to the environment. But not all companies are being entirely accurate when it comes to their sustainability credentials. In some cases this comes down to intentional greenwashing, however in many others it’s a case of good intentions let down by messaging that doesn’t quite hit the mark.

For more than a year, the CMA has been investigating companies suspected of misrepresenting their green credentials. Worryingly, it found that 40% of green claims made online could be misleading to consumers. Now, their bid to end greenwashing has stepped up a gear with the publication of the Green Claims Code.

For many, the arrival of this guidance is long overdue. More people than ever are conscious of the environmental impact of the products and services they buy. According to a recent report, 79% of shoppers change their purchase preferences based on environmental concerns.

Yet, research conducted by consumer rights group Euroconsumers found that 53% of consumers can’t identify greenwashing claims on product packaging. It’s little wonder trust in business’ eco claims is so fragile.

The Green Claims Code is a much-needed intervention, designed to create a greener future for business, consumers, and the planet. Here are four ways retailers can meet the Code’s requirements:

1. Avoid vague or exaggerated claims

Any environmental claims your company makes need to be based on fact. Broad, sweeping statements will get you nowhere. Terms such as: green; eco; environmentally-friendly; and sustainable might grab the attention of consumers, but these are bold claims to make without evidence.

Instead, try to stick with the specifics, ensuring your claims are accurate and focus on the facts. It’s not just any future claims you want to be compliant. Start with an audit of your existing claims, making sure they are truthful, clear, and make meaningful comparisons.

According to Starzeus Hassan McGhee, Delta’s newly appointed Sustainability Director, there really is only one good test for anyone looking to check for greenwashing in their own communication claims. Ask yourself one thing: “Do I fully understand the environmental benefit claimed, and could I defend this if called upon to do so?”

2. Tell the whole story

Be sure to include all relevant information. Cherry-picking the best bits or excluding anything that doesn’t fit your desired image is not an option. The information you give about a product has to allow customers to make an informed choice and tell the whole story. If you need to provide more information than your packaging allows, you can include a QR code that links to your website.

Focus on the areas where your company and its products have the biggest environmental impact. And if you want to make claims about a specific part of a product’s life-cycle, explain your reasons for doing so.

Make honesty your main driver, letting people know the progress (and the mistakes) you’ve made. It may feel counterintuitive to reveal your flaws, but doing so helps boost consumer trust in your brand and sets an example other retailers can follow.

3. Substantiate your claims

Any claims you make need to be backed up with robust, credible, and timely evidence. This supporting evidence needs to be easily-accessible wherever it lies along the supply chain.

Ideally, you’ll be able to demonstrate that each of your green claims have been independently verified where possible. Claims must be based on scientific evidence that customers are able to verify for themselves, if they wish.

4. Get ready for organisational change, if needed

Full compliance with the Green Claims Code might require a shift in mindset for some retailers. Integrity is key if you’re going to adhere to the CMA’s call for truth and accuracy. Claims have to be both factually correct and give the customer an accurate impression of a product’s environmental impact. And that means complete transparency.

Third party organisations such as the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) helps businesses understand how much they need to do to reduce their emissions, how quickly they need to act, and how they can clearly communicate their actions.

For this to work, marketing and sustainability need to work in harmony and evolve together. The data surrounding sustainability changes constantly – as does best practice. Clearly, there’s more to sustainability than just marketing. Success relies on an efficient flow of data that informs and educates business evolution according to customer behaviour around sustainability. On the flipside, failure to comply can result in significant legal penalties for any retailers hoping they can ‘get away with it.’

5. How can Delta help?

At The Delta Group, we advise our clients on embedding sustainable practices into their organisation and culture as well as improving our own business practices. Whether it’s a product lifecycle assessment, materials matrix, or a report on recycling and other sustainability practices, we can help your business measure progress and success using accredited methods and verified data.

Through our award-winning Delta Net Zero strategy we are working towards making a positive contribution to society and the environment. It is enabling us to move towards a more circular economy where products and materials are used for longer and waste and pollution are reduced. And it can help your business too.

One of the key pillars of the Delta Net Zero strategy is collaboration, we understand the importance of working as a collective to be more responsible citizens on this planet. Through honest and open dialogues with our clients about climate change reduction products, eco-design, responsible waste management systems and more we can set realistic science-based targets to lower emissions.

We have a robust variety of sustainable materials suited to your print needs, ensuring that the products end-of-life can either be reused, repurposed, recycled and/or rehomed.

Together we can create a brighter, greener future. To find out more, email us at hello@thedeltagroup.co.uk.

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