With new ways to reduce your company’s negative environmental impact popping up every day, it's now incredibly easy to adopt sustainable business practices.
However, this surge in green business solutions also brings along the risk of greenwashing: the misleading practice of overstating or falsely claiming environmentally friendly attributes.
To stop the growing amount of businesses making false claims, various governments have introduced laws and regulations around how you discuss your business’ climate impact.
But how can you make sure you’re making the right kinds of claims about your business, products, or services? To help you navigate these waters, we’ve put together an anti-greenwashing toolkit to make sense of both the new and existing laws.
What is the Green Claims code?
Green claims are statements to show how a brand, product, or service is beneficial–or less harmful–to the wider environment. The Green Claims Code was introduced in 2021 to reduce greenwashing across the UK and Europe. (Similar rules are being introduced in the US, as well.)
These guidelines state–in the simplest of terms–that you must accurately describe the environmental impact of a brand, product, or service with evidence to back it up. This means you can’t use misleading, misrepresented, or hidden information to sell your product’s eco-credibility.
And as of the 17th of January 2024, more rigorous laws are being introduced in the EU to curtail further misleading terminology which could be seen as greenwashing. These will include claims such as “climate neutral”, “carbon neutral”, “eco-friendly”, “natural”, “recycled”, and more. These rules don’t explicitly apply in the UK due to Brexit, but if you sell to EU markets you must adhere to the new rules.
This is an incredibly important step for reducing our effects on our planet, as three-quarters of products sold in the EU make green claims, but over half of these claims are unclear, deceptive or lacking evidence.
Examples of greenwashing
Greenwashing comes in many forms, and it doesn’t always mean garish claims that are clearly untrue. Sometimes companies have been caught out for certain wording that sounds catchy but doesn’t live up to legal standards.
Let’s take a look at a few examples to help us understand what greenwashing might look like.
Alpro’s Oat Milk
One of our favourite oat milk brands, Alpro, got in trouble in 2020 due to a bus poster that stated ‘Good for the planet, good for you.’ and ‘Next stop, your recipe to a healthier planet!’ Although catchy, straplines like these can’t be substantiated and were challenged for their vagueness.
Not all advertising violations are simple mistakes like that, though. Hyundai got in trouble for stating that their Nexus model was ‘[a] car so beautifully clean, it purifies the air as it goes.’ with a picture of someone jogging in its exhaust. They made it sound like the car would remove impurities from the air as it drove, but this wasn’t the case.
Ryanair’s Low Emissions
This is one of the more egregious cases of greenwashing in our opinion, and yet airline companies seem to make the same mistake over and over again. Ryanair claimed to be one of Europe’s lowest-emission airlines, apparently due to its younger, efficient fleet of aircraft. But, obviously, these claims had little to no substantiation and were discontinued.
What happens if you greenwash?
Greenwashing not only misleads your customers and sours the taste of your brand for consumers, but you can face substantial fines or make payments to consumers to redress harms from the misleading information.
How to avoid greenwashing in 2024
Now we know what greenwashing is, and how easy it is to do so, how does a company like yours avoid making a mistake?
Well, as stated on the government’s website, green claims MUST:
- Be truthful and accurate.
- Be clear and unambiguous.
- Not omit or hide important information.
- Only make fair and meaningful comparisons.
- Consider the full life cycle of the product.
- Be substantiated.
But these can get a little confusing, so instead we suggest keeping these three easy steps in mind to ensure every claim you make is ethical and accurate.
1. Show your work
Any claims or statements you make about your business, products, or services must be able to be substantiated with concrete data, leaving no room for vague estimations. This means no exaggeration, no misleading statements, and no out-of-date information.
There must always be credible evidence to show that your green claim is true, and if the information can’t fit on the packaging, it must be easily accessible by customers in another way.
You also can’t make claims that are ‘necessary standard features or legal requirements of that product or service type’ e.g., if a harmful chemical is banned in your country, you can’t use your exclusion of this product as a marketing point.
Basically, unless you are completely confident that the claim you are making is 100% accurate, backed up by evidence, and understandable by a wide audience, give it a miss.
We suggest keeping detailed records of your energy use, waste production, and greenhouse gas emissions for calculating and proving your claims. This is something you should be doing, anyway, if you’re on the journey to becoming a more planet-positive company.
2. Back it up
The UK government states that when making a green claim, your evidence must ‘clearly tell the whole story of a product or service; or relates to one part of the product or service without misleading people about the other parts or the overall impact on the environment’.
This means your evidence, such as certificates from recognised bodies or data from analyses, must be able to back up all parts of your claim, not just one piece of it. These rulings are also meant to stop companies from claiming their entire product has environmental benefits when only a specific part or component does.
The government also states that claims must ‘reflect the whole life cycle of the brand, product, business or service and is justified by the evidence’. Basically, you can’t create your own ‘sustainability’ or ‘eco’ label or make up claims. Any labels or verifications you put onto your business, products, or services must be verified by an expert independent third party.
3. Keep it real
Whilst not explicitly set out in the Green Claims Code or the Green Claims Directive, setting distinct environmental targets and regularly tracking and reporting progress towards these goals is a key part of being a sustainable business.
But how do you know what sustainable goals to set for your business? How do you know what types of things to track? This is where Carma comes into play…
Carma’s Planet Positive Toolkit
Carma is your trusted climate impact partner; our goal is to make social and environmental impact simple and affordable.
We offer a range of planet-positive impact solutions to help your business become more green.
If you’re looking to grow your positive impact, our subscription-based impact plans are an easy way to get started, whilst accurately reporting and tracking your progress. With a variety of plans to suit every budget and goal, you will be able to directly contribute to social mobility and environmental projects with your contributions.
Grow your businesses' positive impact through our pay-as-you-grow scheme, allowing your customers to plant a tree with every sale. Automatically compensating environmental emissions whilst also increasing conversion and brand loyalty.
Tree planting team days:
For a team-building event with purpose, we offer corporate tree-planting days as a fun way to build your CSR and ESG credentials whilst improving relationships and giving agency to your wider team.
Carbon credits are a simple way to add an extra boost to reducing your company’s environmental impact. Each credit is equal to one tonne of verified carbon emissions to offset your carbon footprint in a verifiable and measurable way.
To back up your efforts and keep track of your progress over time, our dashboard allows you to monitor and report on your planet-positive impact. With real-time updates, you can showcase your commitment to your stakeholders, customers, and employees every step of the way with evidence to back up your impact.
What does Carma look like in action? Well, let’s take a look at how one company is using our tools to boost their positive environmental impact.
5,000 trees in one day
Payment company GoCardless is committed to sustainability, with a comprehensive strategy and Net Zero plan. They brought this to life by joining Carma and the Green Task Force veterans to plant 5,000 native English trees.
This tangible action tackles around 100 tonnes of CO2 per year. More than just carbon offsetting, it benefits nature, the community, and employees who gained a memorable, team-building day out.
GoCardless recognises stakeholders like customers and investors who want to see sustainability in action. As one executive noted, "Showing tangible actions like the tree planting with Carma are so important."
Intrigued? We hope so. Start your business’ positive impact journey with Carma today.
Discover our full range of nature-based climate solutions for your business on a demo call with the friendly Carma team. and get personalised recommendations to achieve your CSR & ESG goals.