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The Green Claims Code – stop, look, listen

Sustainability - 29th September 2023
The Green Claims Code – stop, look, listen

The UK Competitions and Markets Authority’s Green Claims Code aims to help companies understand and comply with the law when making environmental claims, with the aim of reducing greenwashing and ensuring consumers can make informed decisions on the products and services they use.

Since this was launched, brands in fashion, motoring and aviation have been investigated and risk being fined for making misleading environmental claims.

While the UK is leading this clampdown on greenwashing, other nations are following suit. In March 2023, the EU published a new proposal for a Green Claims Directive, which aims to ensure environmental labels and claims are “credible and trustworthy”. Once approved by the European Parliament and Council of the European Union, all EU Member States will have to ensure compliance with the Directive and sanction any breaches.

And, while green claims on product labelling are not yet regulated in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced earlier this year that it is reviewing its Green Guides and will consider whether to pursue rulemaking to establish environmental marketing regulations, which would be enforced by law.

Meanwhile, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is cracking down on businesses inflating their environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials to attract investment, fining Deutsche Bank-controlled investment firm DWS $25 million just this week.

So, with increasing pressure from regulators and activists, how can brands ensure their messaging is accurate and not in breach of existing or future laws?

Stop (review your current sustainability messaging and environmental claims)

If your environmental messaging was created quickly or a long time ago, now is the time to review any claims you have made.

According to the UK Government, the following must be adhered to when making environmental claim or within messaging. Whilst this pertains to UK companies only, this is helpful guidance to assess your messages:

  1. Be truthful and accurate: Businesses must live up to the claims they make about their products, services, brands and activities
  2. Be clear and unambiguous: The meaning that a consumer is likely to take from a product or brand’s messaging and the credentials of that product or brand should match
  3. Do not omit or hide important information: Claims must not prevent someone from making an informed choice because of the information they leave out
  4. Only make fair and meaningful comparisons: Any products compared should meet the same needs or be intended for the same purpose
  5. Consider the full lifecycle of the product: When making claims, businesses must consider the total impact of a product or service. Claims can be misleading where they don’t reflect the overall impact
  6. Be substantiated: Businesses should be able to back up their claims with robust, credible and up to date evidence

Look (at all your marketing channels)

Once you are happy with your messaging and environmental claims, look at how these are being communicated across all your marketing channels, from your website and product pages to your social media channels.

Match your channel communications to your audience’s requirements and ensure you take a strategic approach, with a clear focus on what you are allowed to communicate, especially relating to your wider sustainability strategy and performance against your own goals.

Listen (to others)

When devising your sustainability comms strategy, you should also take a look at how your competitors and brands from other verticals are performing – learning from what they get right, as well as where they fall short.

One example is HSBC, which has launched a free sustainability self-assessment for SMEs and has also pledged to make $1bn available in funding to climate-tech startups. The banking giant isn’t perfect, however, with the Advertising Standards Agency banning two HSBC ads last year for being misleading when promoting HSBC’s plans to reduce harmful emissions.

It’s also essential to seek expert advice ahead of communicating about sustainability issues. When it comes to supporting our clients at 8020, we’ve partnered with sustainability expert, Joss Tantram from consultancy Terrafiniti, to review and advise on appropriate messaging for our consumer travel and aviation clients.

We’ve also used this partnership to develop a five-step communications outline for aviation charter operators, while working with clients to ensure they are doing the right thing – as well as saying the right thing.

In a world that is changing fast, this is crucial to meeting new expectations. It’s only those businesses that take the time to stop, look and listen that will be able to ensure they can communicate credibly, earn their licence to operate in the new landscape and do the right thing for the planet.

If you’d like advice on your own sustainability proposition, please get in touch:

Kate Beveridge