27th March 2024

Retailers sign greenwashing pledge

ASOS, Boohoo and Asda have agreed to change their marketing of ‘green’ products following a CMA investigation

By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
The commitments set a benchmark for how fashion retailers should be marketing their products, and we expect the sector as a whole to take note

Fashion retailers ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda have signed undertakings to only use accurate and clear claims about the environmental credentials of their products following a landmark investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The regulator launched its investigation into the retailers in July 2022, having identified possible examples of ‘greenwashing’ — the practice of exaggerating or making misleading claims about the sustainability or eco-friendliness of products — in the fashion sector.

The three companies have each committed to an agreed set of rules, including undertakings to ensure that key information about green claims must be clear and prominent, expressed in plain language, and clearly visible to consumers.

The language employed to describe the fabrics used in ‘green’ ranges must also be specific and clear, with terms such as ‘organic’ or ‘recycled’ to replace ambiguous terms like ‘eco’, ‘responsible’, or ‘sustainable’ without further explanation. The percentage of recycled or organic fibres must be clearly displayed and easy for customers to see, and a product cannot be called ‘recycled’ or ‘organic’ unless it meets certain criteria.

The criteria used to decide which products are included in the retailers’ ‘environmental collections’ must be clearly set out and detail any minimum requirements, while the use of ‘natural’ imagery that suggests a product is more environmentally friendly than it actually is has been banned.

The way the retailers display products on their websites will also be affected, with search filters only showing items that meet the filter requirements – for example, if a consumer uses a filter to show ‘recycled’ trousers, only trousers made from predominantly recycled materials should be shown.

In addition, any claims made to consumers about environmental targets must be supported by a clear and verifiable strategy which customers must be able to access details about, and statements made about accreditation schemes and standards must not be misleading.

All three companies, which have entered into the commitments voluntarily, must also regularly provide the CMA with reports on how they are complying with the undertakings and take steps to improve their internal processes.

Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive at the CMA, said: “Following our action, the millions of people who shop with these well-known businesses can now have confidence in the green claims they see.

“This also marks a turning point for the industry. The commitments set a benchmark for how fashion retailers should be marketing their products, and we expect the sector as a whole – from high street to designer brands – to take note and review their own practices.”

CTSI has previously sounded the alarm over greenwashing, launching its ‘Let’s Squash the Greenwash’ campaign in 2021. The Institute’s Chief Executive, John Herriman, said at the time: “Greenwashing is one of the new significant challenges for consumer protection, and it will be a growing problem as the Net Zero economy expands. More and more consumers are making sustainable lifestyle choices, and it is important that companies are not allowed to exploit their good intentions by making dishonest claims.”

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