The Consumer Ombudsman calls for accuracy in environmental marketing – environmental claims made by Marimekko and Stockmann online shops were misleadingly broad

The online shops of Marimekko and Stockmann gave a misleading impression of their responsibility, sustainability and environmental friendliness. According to the Consumer Ombudsman, the environmental claims made were too vague and their content had not been explained in connection with the claims. The companies committed to correcting their environmental marketing.

The Consumer Ombudsman examined misleading environmental claims on the websites of Marimekko Corporation and Stockmann plc. In Marimekko’s online shop, some of the products had been marked as more sustainable by adding a ‘More Sustainable’ label on top of the product image.

In Stockmann’s online shop, some products were marked with a green leaf symbol. The symbol was used independently or in combination with the phrases ‘Responsible choice’ and ‘This product represents Stockmann’s sustainable product range’.

Environmental claims include not only all types of statements and information, but also non-verbal expressions, such as symbols, logos, drawings and brands, along with their combinations with colours and illustrations. These must not be used to mislead consumers in marketing.

“Environmental claims may be misleading if they contain ambiguous and general statements about environmental benefits without proper clarification. A vague green label, if its actual content is not disclosed, does not help consumers make choices that are genuinely eco-friendly."

Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen

Vague environmental claims must be specified in their immediate context

The expressions ‘responsibility’ or ‘sustainability’ and the leaf symbol used as visual identifiers in an online shop are ambiguous claims, and there is no single established definition or content for them. They can be interpreted in many ways and they do not provide substantial information on the environmental impacts of products.

General and vague symbols or expressions may be permitted in marketing if their significance is clarified in their immediate context in such a way that they give the consumer a truthful overall impression. In this case, marketing must be designed in such a way that the consumer cannot unnoticedly skip past the clarification of the symbol or expression. It should also not be necessary to search for information behind long link chains, for example.

Marimekko and Stockmann did not sufficiently specify the content of the environmental claims in the immediate context of the claim, but they were presented on separate pages. In both online shops, the reason for the labelling was that the products met at least one of the six or seven criteria defined by the company in question. The Consumer Ombudsman found that, by examining the environmental claims alone, the consumer did not receive accurate, unambiguous and certain information on what the environmental claims meant or why the product was marked with them.

”Marketing must be make it clear at first glance what a concrete environmental claim is based on. The consumer cannot be expected to seek clarification for a vague environmental claim on another website.”

Konsumentombudsmannen Katri Väänänen

Clear criteria for product ranges marketed as sustainable

The Consumer Ombudsman also assessed Stockmann’s ‘more sustainable’ product category, which the consumer was able to select as a search criterion and thus filter out only those products that were marked with the leaf symbol in the product list. However, the consumer was not informed on which basis the products in question had been selected for the category of more sustainable products.

The Consumer Ombudsman found that, by examining the category alone, the consumer would not be able to understand what criteria the product range had, or that in order to be included in the sustainable product range, the products only had to meet one criterion defined by Stockmann. As such, being included in the ‘more sustainable’ category gave a misleadingly broad impression of the sustainability of the products in the category.

The Consumer Ombudsman required that Marimekko and Stockmann commit to not referring to sustainability or responsibility in their marketing in a generalised and vague manner in the future without specifying what sustainability or responsibility means in the context of the claim. Stockmann was also required not to use the general and vague leaf symbol in its marketing without specifying what it means in the immediate context of the symbol. At the request of the Consumer Ombudsman, both companies committed to changing their marketing.

Read more:

Decision of the Consumer Ombudsman (in Finnish): Misleading environmental claims (Marimekko)

Decision of the Consumer Ombudsman (in Finnish): Misleading environmental claims (Stockmann)