What is the Green Claims Code and how can it affect your business?

The UK Government developed the Green Claims Code back in 2021 and, although the initial chatter about it has died down, the laws of the code have not gone away.

It applies to all businesses who make any sort of environmental claim, however small the claim may be. Read on to find out how the Green Claims Code can affect your business and what you can do to make sure you’re operating within the law.

5 minutes to read

by Katie Skelton / May 13, 2022

What is the Green Claims Code?

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) developed the Green Claims Code to give businesses a framework for checking their environmental claims are genuinely green. It’s a checklist and extensive guidelines designed to help businesses feel more confident about their green claims. It also means that consumers can begin to trust that the claims made by businesses are as good as they seem. In other words, it hopes to tackle greenwashing!

Defining a ‘green claim’

A green claim is a claim that shows how a product, service, brand or business is less harmful to the environment, or even benefits it. These claims are used by businesses in all industries to market themselves and reach consumers who are conscious of sustainability when buying. Whether these claims are genuine has been an increasingly difficult thing to determine – brands want to appeal to changing audience habits, and so they invest a lot of money into their eco-marketing, rather than actually improving their business practices.

The appetite for products and services that minimise harm to the environment is increasing. Consumers across all generations are stating that they would be happy to pay more for sustainable products than they would have done two years ago.

Greenwashing and misleading green claims

Greenwashing is the act of causing people to believe that your company, product or service is doing more to protect the environment than it really is. A global review by the CMA found that 40% of online green claims could be misleading consumers.

Whether intentional or not, misleading greenwashing could include having vague claims about being ‘eco-friendly’ without explaining why you’re using the term, and hiding critical information from consumers about certain aspects of your business to make you appear more eco. It could also include claims that your business is less damaging to the environment than your competitors’ goods or services.

Imagine you’re selling stacks of party napkins and you’re proudly talking about how they’re fully compostable. But you’ve not made it clear on the packaging whether it is compostable at home, or only compostable in specific industrial settings. Or, it could be compostable but still release harmful chemicals or plastics into the ground. This is considered a misleading claim, as you would need to explicitly say ‘compostable in industrial settings’ instead of only ‘compostable.’

This applies to service businesses, too. You could claim that you’re 100% carbon-neutral, but without offering the public evidence to back it up, or making it clear that you’re offsetting via a dodgy scheme that does more harm than good, it’s considered a misleading claim.

This study highlights that only true, genuine green claims positively impact consumer behaviour – and greenwashing harms the brand reputation. Not only does greenwashing damage your reputation in the eyes of consumers, but it puts you at risk of breaking the law. If a business doesn’t comply with consumer protection law, the CMA, Advertising Standards Authority, and other bodies can take action against your business for misleading consumers.

Making sure every piece of green marketing you’re putting out there complies with the law is in your business’ best interest – for ethical, legal, and even profitable reasons.

Check your claims against the green claims checklist

If you’re now worried that your claims are inaccurate or a victim of greenwashing, the GCC includes a checklist for you to easily check whether your claims are genuine.

When making a green claim, a business should be able to say ‘yes’ to statements such as:

  • There is up-to-date, credible evidence to show that the green claim is true
  • The claim doesn’t exaggerate its positive environmental impact, or contain anything untrue – whether clearly stated or implied
  • The claim doesn’t miss out or hide information about the environmental impact that people need to make informed choices

For a full breakdown of the official 13-point checklist, check the UK government’s website here or watch the video below.

Where to start to make sure you’re acting within the Green Claims Code

Checking all the marketing messages you’ve ever put out there is a little daunting, to say the least. Here are some suggested starter actions you can take to make sure you’re acting within the law:

  • Rigorously check any new marketing messages or general messages about your business for green claims, using the definition of a green claim made earlier. If you’re unsure whether a claim is genuine or misleading, remove it for now. Better to make no claims at all than the wrong ones.
  • Begin to put together a body of evidence to back up your green claims – get talking to your suppliers or partners, and research any claims your business has made to make sure the numbers add up.
  • Change the messaging on your packaging and website to be very specific, like the napkin example we made earlier.
  • Remove any references to your ‘less eco-friendly’ competitors that aren’t backed up by strong evidence.
  • Got a sustainability charter for your business? Sift through it to check whether you’re making vague claims, to see whether you’re following through on your actions and whether your charter could be rewritten to be more detailed. You should include exact dates and figures showing your proposed sustainability efforts, and be as honest as possible about the things you’re doing right now.
  • Read, read, and then read some more. Educate yourself and your team about greenwashing, the Code, and best practices.

Read the full official PDF document on the Green Claims Code and exact legal definitions as to what’s covered by it.

Educate your team on sustainability

There’s, thankfully, a whole host of information out there on sustainability – committing to improving a little bit at a time is the best way to make long-lasting changes. Apps such as the Ailuna app can help kickstart your business’ sustainability journey, using proven behavioural science techniques so that you can really make a positive impact. If you’re interested in learning more about our sustainability engagement programs for businesses and teams, send an email to life@ailuna.com today and we will be in touch!

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