SIGILLUM ANALYSIS: Greenwashing Surveillance. Actions against misleading sustainability claims in fashion industry

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”2715″ img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space][vc_btn title=”DOWNLOAD ANALYSIS (PDF)” shape=”square” color=”inverse” size=”lg” align=”center” i_icon_fontawesome=”far fa-file-pdf” button_block=”true” add_icon=”true” link=”||target:%20_blank|”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]”Environmental claims” or “green claims” are assertions about a good or service, which has a positive or no impact on the environment or is less damaging to the environment than competing goods or services. Therefore, green claims should provide information to consumers about the improved sustainability performance of products or services. The attributes must be substantiated based on reliable, comparable, and verifiable information to empower consumers for the Green Transition. When these claims are not true or cannot be verified, this practice can be described as “greenwashing”.

Fashion misleading claims in the European Union, are under the scope of Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (2005/9/EC), its provisions apply to all claims made in the context of business-to consumer commercial practices, including those related to the environment. In the case of USA, environmental marketing claims that are unfair or deceptive are under the scope of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The use of green claims has grown exponentially in the last years. However, consumers and other stakeholders can sometimes have difficulties to understand and differentiate many labels and initiatives.

At the beginning of 2021, European Commission and national consumer authorities published the results of a screening of websites for greenwashing in which they analyzed the green online claims for various business sectors such as garments, cosmetics and household equipment. They found that 42% of cases the claims were exaggerated, false or deceptive. Regarding to these dubious claims the main findings were:

>50% cases: Traders not provided sufficient information for consumers to judge the claim’s accuracy

37% cases: Claims included vague or general statements

59% cases: Traders not provided easily accessible evidence to support its claim.

These findings have revealed the necessity of an European legislative initiative to regulate green claims and more actions from national competent authorities. The Commission is working on the criteria for green claims in the context of the Green Claims Initiative, and the proposals to amend the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) (2005/29/EC) and the Consumer Rights Directive (Directive 2011/83/EU).

Actions from national competent authorities of several European markets against misleading green claims in clothing sector were carried out during this year:

Country Authority Brands Action Date
Norway Consumer Protection Authority Norrøna They consider the use of the Higg MSI(1) in marketing towards consumers is misleading in this particular case, under the Market Control Act and the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. Higg MSI measure the environmental impacts of different types of textile materials produced, but not the entire environmental impact of a finished garment. Therefore, they have asked Norrøna to change or remove these marketing practices. June 2022
H&M The Norwegian Consumer Agency has also sent a warning letter to H&M regarding to use of the Higg MSI in marketing towards consumers.
Norway Norwegian Consumer Council (independent interest organization) Zalando “Zalando has won the first Greenwashing award from the Norwegian Consumer Council”. They considered that sustainability filters on the Zalando website obscure the environmental challenges of the fashion industry. Some of the points highlighted about the labelling system were: it is largely based on Higg MSI, it does not address the overconsumption, a large proportion of “sustainable” products are made from recycled synthetic fibers not coming from fiber to fiber recycling”. Zalando dropped its sustainability flag and have committed to change their approach to product sustainability to better serve customer demand and ensure compliance with EU legislation in Q4 2022. September 2022
UK Competition and Market Authority (CMA) Boohoo
ASDA (George)

CMA investigate sustainability claims of these fashion brands focused on:

  • Too broad and vague statements and language used
  • The criteria may be lower than customers might expect from their descriptions and overall presentation
  • Lack of information provided to customers about sustainable products
  • Lack of clarity as to whether the accreditation applies to particular products or to the firm’s wider practices
July 2022
Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) Decathlon The ACM investigation have disclosed that the retailers marketed their sustainable products using general claims “Ecodesign” and “Consicuous” without clearly specifying the benefits with these claims.
Both brands have committed to inform consumers more clearly to avoid misleading practices because of their sustainability claims.
Furthermore, Decathlon and H&M will make donations of 400,000 and 500,000 euros, respectively, to different sustainable causes.
September 2022

(1) Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI) is a tool developed by Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) designed to compare the environmental impact of different materials to help designers and development teams make more sustainable choices during materials selection.

The actions against unfair or deceptive environmental claims in fashion industry were also carried out in the USA market. From 2009, USA Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges companies with ‘Bamboozling’ Consumers with false product claims. The last episode in this matter was on April 2022, when the FTC took an action against Kohl’s and Walmart retailers for marketing rayon textile products as textiles made of bamboo. Both companies were also charged with making deceptive environmental claims related to bamboo textiles as they were made using ecofriendly processes, while the rayon process requires the use of toxic chemicals and results in hazardous pollutants. The FTC has asked the court to order Kohl’s and Walmart to stop making deceptive green claims, stop textile rules violations and pay penalties of $2.5 million and $3 million, respectively (the largest civil penalties in this area).
Therefore, misleading green claims can be qualified as unfair commercial practices under EU and USA regulations. Among other points, it is very important for textile brands and retailers to:

  • Avoid vague or non-specific claim, or that one’s which broadly implies that a product is environmentally benign
  • Use truthful, accurate, clear, and unambiguous claims
  • Substantiate the claims employed

Sigillum Knowledge Solutions is an international consultancy service provider focused on Health, Safety and Sustainability of consumer products. From design to end of life cycle we cover the full production process in order to ensure that any consumer good meets all legal requirements before it is placed on the market.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]