laiming your business, product or service is sustainable is a big win today – but before you make your claims, you need to make sure you’re saying the right thing, says the York and North Yorkshire Growth Hub.
In a post on its web site the organisation says consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of how their buying habits impact the planet and are looking for greener alternatives. Businesses, too, are looking to reduce their impact on the environment by making greener choices and producing more sustainable products and services.
These are positive things, and every business and individual should be striving to become more sustainable. However, we need to be careful with the claims we make, especially when it comes to sustainability, otherwise we could be confronted with claims of ‘greenwashing’.
Greenwashing refers to making false or exaggerated claims that a product or service is in some way good for the planet, or that it is environmentally friendly without providing actual evidence. This can include vague claims about sustainability on websites, using green buzzwords like ‘eco-friendly’ without explanations, or using nature-inspired imagery on packaging without evidence to back up your sustainability claims.
Not only are consumers becoming more interested in buying sustainable options, but they’re also becoming shrewder. If a claim isn’t adding up, it won’t just be your customer base that has something to say. Businesses have been hit with fines, had advertising pulled, and have had lawsuits and formal complaints filed against them because of greenwashing claims.
Sustainability is becoming serious business, and if you want to avoid financial, legal or reputational repercussions, you need to avoid greenwashing and be careful with the claims you make. However, sometimes it can be hard to know what you’re allowed to say about your products in your marketing. After all, what qualifies a product as ‘sustainable’?
The 2021 Green Claims Code aims to help companies understand where the boundaries lie and reduce greenwashing to help consumers make an informed decision.
The Green Claims Code applies whether you’re selling B2B or B2C, and has six key elements:
1. Claims must be truthful and accurate
Simply, you can’t claim a benefit that doesn’t exist, claim to be carrying out sustainability work if you aren’t or exaggerate action you are taking. For example, if you’re making the claim “we only use renewable energy”, but this only applies to your UK operations, you must say so.
2. Claims must be clear and unambiguous
Your consumer needs the full information to make their decision, and it is your duty to provide that. If your compostable packaging is only compostable under industrial conditions, you must state so clearly.
3. Claims must not omit or hide important information
Using partial statistics, overstating the benefits of certain technologies or materials, and omitting information can all make your company’s operations or products look better for the planet than they are, and skew a buyer’s decision. If you say you’re a zero-waste company, be prepared to publish your waste statistics.
4. Comparisons must be fair and meaningful
If you’re comparing products or services in order to claim that one is more sustainable than the other, you must compare like-for-like, with up-to-date and objective information. For example, if you’re claiming that a competitor’s packaging is heavier than yours, the unpackaged weight of the goods must be the same in order to create a fair comparison.
5. In making the claim, you must consider the life cycle of the product
This means not just looking at what it took to manufacture your product, but what resources were originally needed to create it and its packaging, how it was transported, and what will happen when it is disposed of. This is where single-use plastics can be tricky – although they are very light and easy to transport, which gives them a low carbon footprint on one element of the life cycle, the issues associated with their natural resource (oil), and their disposal give them a high environmental impact overall.
6. Claims must be substantiated
You need to be able to back up any claims you’re making – and the information used must be reliable, up-to-date, and from an unbiased source, such as a scientific paper or independent report. This is where being specific can help – saying “we’ve reduced our waste output by 20% in the last year” is much easier to prove than a generic claim such as “we’re a sustainable company”.
There’s a lot of support and guidance out there around net zero business practices, including our free Growth Hub resources.
If you’re just getting started or need more clarity, you can download the Hub’s free Glossary of Climate Change Terms for Businesses. It contains definitions and breakdowns of all the key, relevant terms businesses need to know, helping to make net zero conversations and support more accessible.
When navigating sustainable business practices and marketing, being familiar with the terms in the glossary will help you make those specific and measurable claims that can give you a marketing boost, whilst keeping you on the right side of the Green Claims Code.
Further guidance around the Green Claims Code, including a checklist for your business, can be found on the GOV.UK webpage.