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Greenwashing crackdown: CMA’s Green claims code signals more sustainability pressure on businesses

Seeking to rebuild consumer trust and ultimately make the term ‘sustainability’ more meaningful, the document includes six core criteria that all environmental claims must now adhere to

Joanna Stephenson, Managing Director at B2B print and packaging comms firm PHD Marketing, explained to ESG Insight what the expansion of the guidance tells today’s brand owners and packaging manufacturers

The newly announced expansion of the Green Claims Code (GCC) guidance, which now includes FMCG household essentials, gives vital clues to the future direction of sustainable business, a leading industry insider has told ESG Insight.

The Green Claims Code, spearheaded by the UK Government’s Competition & Markets Authority, seeks to reverse the impact of ‘greenwashing’ by putting stricter criteria in place for B2B and B2C brand owners, covering all externally communicated sustainability claims.

Seeking to rebuild consumer trust and ultimately make the term ‘sustainability’ more meaningful, the document includes six core criteria that all environmental claims must now adhere to.

These cover all marketing communications, including online, on marketing collateral, and on-pack.

Joanna Stephenson, Managing Director at B2B print and packaging comms firm PHD Marketing, explained to ESG Insight what the expansion of the guidance tells today’s brand owners and packaging manufacturers.

“Ask any successful business what their top priorities are for 2023, and the one we find time and again is sustainability,” Stephenson said.

“This is particularly true of the print and packaging sector, which must always stay several steps ahead of market shifts in order to succeed.”

However, she stressed “it is a topic rife with contradictions and misinformation, and there’s a lot to unpack.”

“Consumers continue to demand more sustainable brands and statistics still show they’re backing that with their purchasing decisions, but what does that actually mean? What makes a business, product or service sustainable?”

Joanna Stephenson

“The problem is that it’s open to interpretation, and the last thing we want is for it to be subjective,” Stephenson continued.

“Without firm criteria to meet, ‘sustainability’ doesn’t mean anything; without context, it’s a buzzword. It’s what we mean when we hear ‘greenwashing’, the distortion or misrepresentation of sustainability in order to strengthen sales potential, which harms consumer trust.”

She added: “That challenge is the crux of the GCC, which seeks to bring meaning back to sustainability and provide new consumer protections in the process.”

The guidance stops environmental claims becoming a ‘wild west’, Stephenson noted.

The expansion into FMCG, which was not previously covered under the guidance, sends the message to brands that the topic of sustainability is seeing a long overdue overhaul, she stated.

“What we are expecting is that 2023 will see fewer overall claims being made, in favour of more selective and demonstrable statements.”

Joanna Stephenson

“It’s vital that we closely monitor the legislation. As a result, we tend to get fantastic oversight of market movement,” Stephenson added.

“Quality over quantity. Savvy businesses have already begun the process of auditing all their existing claims, and the new announcement that the GCC is extending to FMCG products should give added urgency to those that have yet to begin.”

She said: “The message is stark – the hard work has only just begun.”

“As innovation accelerates and we see real progress being made in areas such as low-carbon operations and circularity, we have been heading towards a tipping point when it comes to ‘green’ business and how this is communicated externally.”

“Particularly with Net Zero targets looming, 2023 could – and should – be the year we see transformation. We are excited to see how it unfolds, and how businesses step up to the plate,” Stephenson concluded.

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