FAQs regarding sustainability claims in connection with the sector letters
This FAQ was last updated on May 27th 2021.
I have specific questions regarding the use of sustainability claims in my specific situation. Can I contact ACM about these questions?
ACM can only give general information regarding the rules on sustainability claims, and does not give any recommendations in individual cases. The Guidelines on Sustainability Claims and the letters contain practical information about and concrete examples of the rules that apply to sustainability claims. Businesses should assess for themselves, using those documents, whether or not the sustainability claims they use comply with these rules. In doubt, you can consult a legal expert.
My company has received a letter. Does this mean that my company has committed a violation?
ACM has sent letters to companies in the clothing, energy, and dairy sectors, because previous studies have revealed that sustainability claims are often used in these sectors. That does not necessarily mean that all companies that have received a letter have committed a violation. When selecting the companies for receiving the letters, ACM did not assess at an individual level whether all companies in the selection use potentially misleading/incorrect sustainability claims. Our call to all companies that have received letters is to verify whether their sustainability claims are correct and justified.
The letter states that ACM will resume its investigation starting June 14. What can be expected from that resumption?
Starting June 14, ACM will resume its investigation into whether or not market participants comply with the rules that apply to the use of sustainability claims. That means that no enforcement actions will be taken straight away in June, as more in-depth investigations are needed first.
ACM has the power to impose fines or orders subject to periodic penalty payments on companies that mislead consumers using claims they cannot back up. Must all packaging, labels and tags also be adjusted before 14 June 2021?
In its letters, ACM did not set any individual deadlines, but it did indicate when it would resume its investigation into sustainability claims. We will not postpone the resumption of this investigation, as it concerns the enforcement of rules that have already been in effect for a long time. Also, ACM has given extra attention to and information about them since September 2020 with the publication of its Guidelines on Sustainability Claims, and the letters. Companies are responsible themselves for complying with these rules, and are able to use ACM’s information as a tool in such self-assessments.
Given the responsibility on the part of companies, we do realize that adjusting labels and packaging costs more time than adjusting websites. We strongly recommend implementing adjustments (if any) to labels and packaging as soon as possible. Should the results of our investigation in mid-June give us reason for doing so, we will also ask companies about the adjustments (if any) to packaging and labels they are working on at that point, and about the ways in which they will ensure that consumers are informed correctly through packaging and labels too.
What does ACM mean by the specification of, the substantiation (the explanation thereof) of, and the supporting evidence for the sustainability claim?
By specification of the claim, we mean that it must be immediately clear to consumers what the product’s concrete sustainability benefit is. By the substantiation (the explanation thereof), we mean that you must explain in easy-to-understand words what the product’s sustainability benefits are, and on the basis of what you make that claim. Supporting evidence consists of any documents that prove that the sustainability claim and its substantiation are correct. Think of a study or certificate.
Are resellers responsible for any sustainability claims associated with the products they sell?
Resellers are responsible for the information they provide when selling a product. Are you a supplier of products that are sold by other sellers? If so, make sure you provide honest and correct information about the sustainability benefits of your product. The resellers are then able to inform their customers properly.
Can I, as a reseller, include a link to a website containing the sustainability information of that particular brand?
It is permitted to include a link to the specific sustainability information of the manufacturer / supplier to substantiate the claim. If you do, make sure that consumers are able to find the substantiation with a single click. Furthermore, if you refer to information of the manufacturer / supplier, you are responsible that the substantiation that is given is correct and easy-to-understand.
Is a company responsible if their supplier or manufacturer gives them incorrect information about the sustainability aspects of a product?
You are responsible for the information that you provide when selling a product. It would thus be wise to check regularly whether the sustainability information that you receive from the supplier is correct. You can do so, for example, by asking your supplier for justification / evidence for the sustainability benefits that your supplier claims a particular piece of clothing has.
Can a sustainability claim be substantiated by referring to a certificate?
No, though it can serve as evidence. A substantiation means that you explain using easy-to-understand words what the product’s sustainability benefits are, and on what basis you make the claim. In that context, you must refer to the supporting evidence for this substantiation and the claim, and you must indicate where this can be found or requested. You can substantiate a sustainability claim, for example, using a certificate from an independent inspection company, which shows that a product or supplier offers a specific sustainability benefit.
Is it mandatory to add sustainability information on tags and labels to products?
No, this is not mandatory. However, if you use sustainability claims on labels and tags, they cannot be misleading, and they have to meet the rules that are presented in the Guidelines on Sustainability Claims and in the letters. On tags/labels, too, all claims must be phrased or be accompanied by information in such a way that it is clear to consumers at a single glance what the product’s specific sustainability benefits are.
Are there any specific requirements for the way in which the sustainability information is presented on a website? Can it be presented using, for example, pop-ups, drop-down menus, or footers?
There are various ways for specifying and substantiating sustainability claims. They are not bound to any instructions regarding form. In the letters, it is explained what information must be presented where. In general, the information must be provided in such a way that consumers cannot miss it. Placing a link to the substantiation in a footer is therefore insufficient. Such a link should be placed directly with the claims. Furthermore, you cannot create any unnecessary barriers for consumers to access relevant information.
Does my company comply with the rules if we follow the guidelines and initiatives for communication of, for example, a certification label or certification body?
You are responsible for your own communications. Therefore, make sure that these guidelines or initiatives for communication comply with the rules as explained in the Guidelines on Sustainability Claims and in the letters.
My company uses certification labels on its products. What information should it include?
Certification labels can also be classified as sustainability claims, and should thus comply with the rules as explained in the Guidelines on Sustainability Claims and in the letters. This means, among other things, that it must be clear to consumers at a single glance what the specific sustainability benefits of the certification label are, and where consumers are able to find more information about the certification labels.