Recently the ACCC released the results of their greenwashing claims internet sweep. The detailed review is available here and their accompanying press release / summary is available here. Thirty cosmetic companies were evaluated and the ACCC found issues with 22 of them! The key concerns are summarised below and the text in italics is a direct ACCC quote:
"Several businesses identified in the sweep used logos or symbols on their websites and packaging that appeared to be trustmarks. These symbols commonly used nature-based imagery such as leaves and the planet, and the colour green. " (March 2023, p8)
"On closer examination, it was found that these images did not appear to be associated with a certification scheme. The use of these types of images raises concerns, as consumers may be misled into believing that the business or product is certified by a third-party, when this is not the case." (March 2023, p8)
We've selected an image that could possibly be considered a green trustmark (see above)! Care should be taken with images like these due to the following issues raised...
- What claim(s) does the image convey?
- Could the image be mistaken for a trustmark? And if so what is the messaging of that trustmark?
- Could the image imply that the product is natural?
- Could the image imply that the product or company is green/environmentally friendly?
- In which aspects does the image indicate the product is environmentally friendly? Ingredient selection? Animal testing? Vegan? Humane animal ingredients? Sustainably sourced? Organic?
- In which aspects does the image indicate that the company is environmentally friendly? Energy rating? Carbon footprint? Local ingredient sourcing? Packaging? Corporate sustainability initiatives?
- How accurate are the claims that might be inferred by the consumer looking at your prdouct? Should they not have made any assumptions? If not then what was the purpose of the image to begin with?
- What claim did you intend to make by use of the image? Is your consumer likely to interpret the image in the same way?
Other key issues raised by ACCC:
- ‘sustainable materials’ claim with no further information
- ‘contains post-consumer recycled plastic’ claim with no details about percentages
- ‘biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable’ with no further information about how to achieve this could be misleading
- Absolute claims such a 100% plastic free, 100% recyclable, made from 100% recycled content, non-polluting, 100% carbon positive, zero emissions
- Vague claims about sustainability with no detail about whether it applied to the whole company, whole range, or just some products.
The ACCC seemed concerned with strong claims that were not accompanied by evidence or a link to further information. Whilst it may have been acceptable previously to keep substantiation filed away in case it was ever requested, there is a shifting expectation that you should pro-actively detail the basis of your claims.
We recommend that clients consider not only the optimum presentation of their claim on their artworks, social media, or website; but also how to present the evidence. This especially applies to high value claims, green claims, absolute claims, or any other strong claims. The ACCC commented that some brands provided links to websites that were broken, or contained outdated information. Take note: consumers and regulators want to see the evidence behind your claims and they will follow website links and expect to find suitable substantiation.
Your claim will need to be substantiated for at least the shelf life of your product extending to the shelf life of the last batch produced and shipped! This timing should be factored into your product branding, social media, and website strategy as part your product stewardship activities. If you cannot do this especially with green corporate wide claims then consider re-wording your claims as appropriate so that you are only making claims you can confidently support.
Finally, there is a clear message that all should heed - vague claims must be avoided. Should a consumer misunderstand a vague claim, and should that misunderstanding be 'reasonable' then your claims could place you in breach of the Misleading & Deceptive Conduct provisions of the Australian Consumer Law.
Vague claims should be avoided – especially vague green claims!