The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has announced that it will act against companies making false or vague sustainability claims. Companies that mislead consumers can run into serious trouble: fines of up to €900,000, or a percentage of their turnover. Many companies use sustainability as a means of selling their product. But their sustainability claims are by no means always well-founded. “We are actually going to see if they are not misleading consumers,” says Edwin van Houten of ACM.
Dairy, energy and clothing
ACM is starting investigations into misleading sustainability claims in the energy, dairy and clothing sectors. ACM has chosen these sectors because during preliminary investigation it saw many potentially misleading sustainability claims. And for these secotrs in particular, sustainability plays a major role for consumers in their purchases in these sectors. In total, more than 170 companies were contacted with the request to check their sustainability claims for correctness. If companies mislead consumers about the sustainability of their products, ACM will impose fines.
42 percent of claims is incorrect
Last year, research showed that 42 percent of environmental claims are incorrect. Rob van Tilburg, of Natuur & Milieu, calls them “vague claims”. “For example: our product is sustainable. Or it is recyclable. Or made from natural raw materials. That suggests that it is sustainable, but a product that is made from natural raw materials might be made with pesticides.”
Van Houten cites a carton of milk as an example, which states that “it is now produced with 30% less CO2 emissions”. “If you then keep asking questions, it turns out to be about the packaging.”
‘On the way to planet proof?’
Quality marks are one way brands can show consumers that their products are more sustainable. However, from our quality marks study we now that there is a substantial amount of generic mistrust concerning quality marks, caused by unclarity about what the different quality marks stand for and how reliable the certifying organization is. The action by the ACM will force these quality marks to clearly explain what they stand for and be absolutely transparant about the criteria for certification.
Rules of thumb for sustainability claims
Earlier this year, ACM published the rules of thumb for reliable sustainability claims:
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