Sustainable consumption is teamwork – consumers must be able to trust the environmentally oriented claims made by companies

Consumers and companies play an important role in promoting sustainable consumption and preventing climate change. Consumers want to make choices that matter and, therefore, it is important that companies highlight the environmental impacts of their products. The Consumer Ombudsman has reminded the commerce and marketing sector associations of the fact that any environmentally oriented claims made in marketing must be truthful, accurate and relevant.

According to observations made by the Consumer Ombudsman, the use of references to environmental impacts in marketing is growing rapidly. This kind of development is preferable but requires vigilance and careful consideration from consumers and companies. Use of too ambiguous claims and generalisations in environmental marketing should be avoided. From the perspective of consumer protection, environmentally oriented claims are considered factual claims, which means that the marketer must be able to prove their correctness.

“It is great that companies are assessing environmental impacts and striving to promote sustainable consumption. Responsible operations carried out in compliance with the rules of marketing ensure that consumers can make choices based on correct information,” says Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen.

How can claims related to environmental impacts be used in marketing?

  • The claims used in marketing should tell only meaningful and relevant matters related to the environmental impacts of a product. The relevance of environmentally oriented claims should be assessed in relation to all the environmental impacts of the product.
  • The environmental features of the product should be explained clearly and unambiguously. Generalisations and unspecified expressions should be avoided, and the marketing should use only terminology that consumers can understand. Misleading claims about the product’s environmental impacts should not be used.
  • In marketing, the overall picture and the general impression given must be accurate. An environmental claim can be misleading if it is unclear whether it applies to the whole product or only one of its components, or the overall environmental efficiency of the company or just some of its functions.
  • Generalisations (e.g. environmentally friendly, responsible, green ecological product) should not be used unless the whole life cycle of the product has been thoroughly assessed. To be able to call a product environmentally friendly, it would need to cause a significantly smaller burden to the environment than other products used for the same purpose. If there are established environmental criteria for the specific product or product group being advertised, the producer may apply for a Nordic or EU Eco-label for the product.
  • The comparison of the environmental benefits of products should not be misleading and any comparisons should be made between products and services used for the same purpose.
  • The responsibility for proving the environmental claims lies with the company that made them. Any measures taken for the environment must have significance as a whole, and it must be possible to verify their environmental impacts.

For more detailed instructions, see the Consumer Ombudsman’s guidelines on environmentally oriented claims in marketing

If you observe any defects or confusing matters in marketing, do not hesitate to report them to the Consumer Ombudsman.