Defra, the UK Government’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, has published new Green Claims Guidance aimed at helping companies describe the environmental credentials of their products. Defra wants to make it easier for consumers to assess green claims and prevent ‘greenwashing’.
There is a confusing array of advertising labels around green products, with new products and new descriptions appearing all the time. The Defra quotes an example of the term ‘negative carbon footprint’ used in relation to recycling! Understandably, it makes it harder for consumers to make the best choices and businesses find it harder to communicate genuine product improvements.
Environment Minister Lord Henley said: “If people are making the effort to buy green it is only right that we try to make the process as easy as possible. Our guide will make things easier for both business and consumer – helping restore public faith in environmental advertising and acting as a resource for companies developing more sustainable products.”
The Guidance is an update and went through a public consultation in 2010. It’s widely supported by industry – the groups involved included the Advertising Standards Authority, Department of Business Innovation and Skills, Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), Consumer Focus, Forum for the Future, Office of Fair Trading and the Sustainable Development commission.
Research for the guidance found that clear language is important and that some phrases like ‘energy efficient’ were better understood than others such as ‘carbon negative’. Full details of the guidance is here, but basically Defra advocates three key steps that businesses need to follow to build consumer confidence in the environmental attributes of their products:
Ensure the content of the claim is relevant, with a real environmental benefit
Present the claim clearly and accurately
Make sure the claim can be substantiated
Sounds good, but it is only guidance. In the ICT industry greenwashing has subsided significantly over the last couple of years as awareness of the issue has grown, but it can still be difficult to compare green claims.
Certainly, any claims made must be able to be substantiated, which I guess falls within UK trading standards laws, but even that could lead to significant argument.