Lower climate impact – how come? The Consumer Ombudsman calls for accuracy in the environmental claims used in marketing

Positive environmental impacts are an increasingly important selling point, but sometimes companies use environmental claims that are too vague or unjustified. The Consumer Ombudsman examined the claims made by Arla and Atria about their packaging being environmentally friendly. Arla’s marketing claims were found to be too vague, while Atria’s claims were sufficiently substantiated.

Marketing must not provide false or misleading information, and essential information must be disclosed. This also applies to environmental claims, and there are two main principles for their use in marketing. Firstly, claims must be clear, precise and understandable and must not mislead consumers. Secondly, the company must have evidence to support its claims.

Arla’s claim about the climate impact was too general

Arla Oy’s KESO cottage cheese packaging stated that the climate impact of the carton packaging used was 60% less than that of the old plastic packaging. The contents of the claim were not further specified in the packaging. There was a website address for further information below the claim.

According to the Consumer Ombudsman, Arla’s claim was problematic because there is no single established definition for the concept of climate impact. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, climate impacts can be used to refer to aspects related e.g. to greenhouse gas removal, other compounds affecting climate, adaptation to climate change, the production of raw materials and energy use. At the broadest definition, climate impacts can refer to all possible separate climate impacts of the product.

Arla was referring to climate impact as the sum of greenhouse gas emissions, which is measured by carbon dioxide equivalents, but this could not be understood by the average consumer just by examining the packaging. The consumer would have had to go to Arla’s website to find the information.

‘It is fine to talk about actions taken for the environment in marketing, but this requires special care and understanding in order to avoid greenwashing and making generalisations. Even if the information provided is correct in itself, the overall picture may still be misleading. The starting point for examining all marketing is always the overall impression created for the consumer‘

Consumer ombudsman Katri Väänänen

Arla undertook to change its marketing in the manner required by the Consumer Ombudsman, i.e. to specify immediately in connection with environmental claims what they mean in concrete terms.

Atria’s claim for a smaller carbon footprint was sufficiently precise

In its print advertisement for minced meat, Atria Suomi Oy referred to a 30% smaller carbon footprint and claimed that the new packaging has a 30% smaller carbon footprint than a conventional box packaging. In the actual minced meat packaging, there was a claim that 50% less plastic had been used to make the packaging. According to the Consumer Ombudsman, the claims were true and did not mislead consumers.

It is important to note that the definition of carbon footprint may also vary. Typically, it refers to the sum of the different greenhouse gases expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents, but sometimes it refers only to CO2 emissions. In its marketing, Atria was referring to the carbon footprint measured in carbon dioxide equivalents. As this corresponded to the typical and most extensive definition of carbon footprint, according to the Consumer Ombudsman, the claim did not give an incorrect overall picture of the environmental impact of the packaging.

Both Atria and Arla reported that their climate calculations had taken into account the entire life cycle of the packaging. Moreover, the marketing claims clearly focused on the environmental impacts of packaging and did not create an impression of the environmental impacts of the whole product.