4 May 2010
Eco-friendliness is a sales pitch affecting the purchasing decisions of more and more consumers. Even though we have seen a reduction in the worst possible forms of marketing excess, the Consumer Agency has had to interfere with advertising that exaggerates the effect of consumer purchasing decisions on the state of the environment.
The Consumer Agency has been monitoring the use of environmental claims in marketing since the 1990s. In the first marketing campaigns with environmental themes, the “green” aspect was often superficial and lacked any factual backing. To rectify the situation, the Agency prepared environmental marketing guidelines for the companies based on the Consumer Protection Act.
The guidelines emphasise that marketing claims need to be factual and exact. Evidence must also be available to support all claims. For a product to be called eco-friendly, it needs to have significantly fewer environmental effects than other comparable products.
Environmental marketing resurfaced in 2007, together with the discussion concerning climate change. Many companies had developed their methods and products to be more eco-friendly, but presented exaggerated claims in their advertising. The Consumer Agency took action against ads where, for example, bio-fuel was promised to “bring about a cleaner world, litre by litre” and replacing your faucet would “halve water consumption and save money, energy and the environment.”
At the moment, green themes are used for marketing cosmetics, detergents, furniture, automobiles, construction supplies, energy and groceries. The exaggeration has reduced, but the advertisements still draw too broad conclusions on the effects of consumer choices.
For example, Omo stated at the end of their TV commercial for the “Pikkujätti” detergent that “every child is entitled to a better world.” Kellogg’s, on the other hand, offered their cereal with the slogan “Buy now - we will plant a tree.” The advertisements led consumers to believe that by buying this product the consumer could promote the well-being of the environment. The Consumer Agency considered both advertisements misleading. A detergent or a single tree sprout alone cannot change the world.
In addition to Finland, authorities have paid attention to environmental marketing in other OECD countries. OECD has reminded that ambiguous and exaggerated marketing claims may reduce consumer interest and confidence in eco-friendly products. In the end, misleading marketing will harm consumers, law-abiding companies and the environment.
The Consumer Agency newsletter “Current Issues in Consumer Law” presents more environmental marketing cases processed by the Consumer Agency. The Agency has also arranged a seminar for companies regarding the principles of environmental marketing.
Consumer Agency guidelines The use of environmentally oriented claims in marketing (in Finnish)
Guidelines for the use of environmental claims in the marketing of cars (in Finnish)