The Finnish Consumer Ombudsman intervened in Fortum’s vague environmental marketing: green washing does not lead to “a cleaner world”

The Consumer Ombudsman has assessed Fortum’s Mother Earth (Äiti Maa) television advertisement, which creates an image of the company’s environmental friendliness. The overall impression given by the advertisement was misleading, because it provided an overly positive and one-sided picture of the company’s environmental impacts.

Fortum’s Mother Earth television advertisement uses the expressions “towards a cleaner world” (kohti puhtaampaa maailmaa) and “clean energy and recycling” (puhdas energia ja kierrätys). Viewers are left with the overall impression that Fortum’s operations have a very positive environmental impact. The aim of the advertisement is to influence Fortum’s image and brand and – indirectly – also sales of Fortum products.

Environmental marketing must be clear and justified

Marketing must not provide false or misleading information, and essential information must be disclosed. This also applies to environmental claims. Claims must be clear, precise and understandable and must not mislead consumers. The company must also have evidence to support its claims. These principles are confirmed in the European Commission guidelines and the Consumer Ombudsman’s guidelines on the use of environmentally oriented claims in marketing.

According to the Consumer Ombudsman’s assessment, the main message in the advertising video is “towards a cleaner world” and the image of Fortum’s environmental friendliness is too general and vague. The advertisement does not describe Fortum’s operating methods in more detail, changes in them, or different ways of reducing the environmental burden.

“The statement in the advertisement is a vague promise of a better future that leaves a positive image, but does not provide the consumer with real information to support environmentally friendly choices.”

Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen

Fortum made a commitment to correct its actions

At the request of the Consumer Ombudsman, Fortum made a commitment to avoid implementing environmental marketing in a way that uses generalised claims and illustration to create an image of the company’s environmental friendliness without clearly indicating the concrete elements on which the overall impression of environmental friendliness is based.

Fortum also confirmed that its marketing will no longer use any vague, future-oriented claims about the environmental impacts of its operations that it cannot prove at the time the marketing is implemented.

According to Fortum, the marketing campaign that included the “Mother Earth” television advertisement has ended. Fortum has also removed the advertisement from its own YouTube channel. However, the Consumer Ombudsman emphasised that although the assessment focused on a single television advertisement, the regulations on environmental marketing extend to all marketing in all channels.

Fortum’s advertising was also examined as part of a supervision campaign organised by the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network.

Many actions are needed to promote responsible environmental marketing

In recent years, environmental marketing has become increasingly visible in the activities of the Consumer Ombudsman. For example, the Consumer Ombudsman currently has a case concerning the environmental marketing of Vattenfall that is still in the negotiation phase. In addition to supervision, the Consumer Ombudsman also tries to offer companies support. Guidelines concerning the rules of environmental marketing were recently sent to business organisations, and attention has been paid to the matter at many events related to this theme.