Competition watchdog launches anti-greenwashing initiative

Misleading environmental claims are to be the focus of a new work stream launched by the UK’s competition and markets authority. The watchdog is also planning a “sweep” of company websites both in the UK and internationally to spot greenwashing.

Last year, consumers spent £41 billion on ethical goods and services. Research last year by Lloyd’s Register showed that 75% of UK shoppers want supermarkets to only stock food from sustainable and ethical sources, for example.

However, the Competition and Markets Authority is worried that the appetite for everything from green energy tariffs to organic meals and plastic-free packaging could have led to a rise in dubious claims.

“Our role is to make sure that consumers can trust the claims they see on products for sale and don’t fork out extra for items falsely presented as eco-friendly,” said CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli.

As well as brands that over-play environmental credentials there are also those that stay quiet about the sustainability of their products or services. The CMA will investigate whether this, too, could mislead and therefore break consumer law.

The work will cut across a number of sectors, but hone in where the CMA feels consumers are most concerned about misleading claims – including food and drink.

Claims made around packaging, from ‘plastic-free’ to ‘biodegradable’, are likely to be a focus. Questions will also be asked of products lauded as “low carbon” but lacking any rigorous life cycle analysis to back it up.

Responsible businesses will certainly support the move. Greenwashing is rife in the food sector and the government has done little to prevent it. The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs produced guidance a decade ago after research found a spike in dodgy claims. However, it was slimmed down to just one page, with little specific help for those advertising online.

CMA wants to issue guidance by summer 2021 to help businesses “support the transition to a low carbon economy without misleading consumers”.

The call for information closes on 14th December.

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