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Check again, it might be a greenwashing trap

Online stores claiming to offer 'sustainable' products aren’t always as reliable as they seem

Three types of misleading claims were identified, including vague “eco” statements.
Three types of misleading claims were identified, including vague “eco” statements. (Unsplash)

Many of the "green" claims on companies' websites are exaggerated, false and potentially illegal, shows a study of online shops and traders by the European Union and national consumer protection authorities.

As consumers demand more sustainable goods, the number of environmental claims made by companies is rising, and with it, "greenwashing", where companies exaggerate their environmental credentials to win over shoppers, reports Reuters.

The study assessed 344 "seemingly dubious" sustainability claims made online by companies in sectors including clothing, cosmetics, household equipment and travel services.

In 42% of cases, national authorities had reason to believe the claim was false, deceptive, and potentially an unfair commercial practice under EU law.

In most cases the trader failed to offer consumers enough information to assess the claim's accuracy, while 37% of cases used vague terms without substantiating them.

"Terms such as ecological, organic, and environmentally friendly were used frequently and without substantiation," the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) said. ACM can fine businesses that make false or misleading sustainability claims, it said.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said that while some firms strive to produce eco-friendly products, "there are also unscrupulous traders out there, who pull the wool over consumers' eyes with vague, false or exaggerated claims."

The Commission did not name the companies it screened. It said national authorities will raise any concerns and ensure they are fixed.

Meanwhile, according to a recent investigation by the global consumer watchdog, consumers need to be aware that products boasting impeccable environmental credentials aren’t always as green as they seem, reports Bloomberg.

Baby wipes that claim to be 0% plastic or dairy-free milk that declares itself as “sustainably sourced” are just some of the products that may be breaking the law by greenwashing, a review by the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN) found.

Amid a boom in consumer interest in products that don’t pollute, the annual ICPEN sweep of websites focused on the environment for the first time this year. It aims to help protect consumers from paying more for goods that claim to be green, but in fact aren’t. As much as 40% of the sustainability claims made online could well be misleading.

Three types of misleading claims were identified, including vague “eco” statements. One milk substitute was said to be sustainably sourced with no further explanation or evidence. Another high street fashion retailer promoted clothes as ‘recycled cotton’ without listing the amount of recycled cotton used.

Companies also created their own-brand eco-labels that weren’t linked to an accredited organization. Others hid or omitted key information, such as a product’s pollution levels in order to appear more environmentally friendly, according to Bloomberg.

“Too many websites appear to be pushing misleading claims onto consumers, which means that companies offering products with a genuine environmental benefit are not getting the customers they deserve,” said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority, which co-led the sweep with The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets.

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