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ACM: consumers are entitled to clear information on sustainability

Consumers can only truly make more-sustainable choices when they have clear and correct information about sustainability. Companies should not pretend to be ‘greener’ than they really are. In order to help consumers distinguish between correct and incorrect sustainability claims, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) today launched the campaign ‘Groene praatjes’ (in English: ‘Green promises’ referring to sustainability claims).

Sustainability claims should be clear and easy-to-understand at first sight. If this is not the case, consumers can ask companies for additional information. Naturally, consumers can also report claims that they find doubtful to ACM. This helps ACM deal with misleading sustainability claims. In the coming months, ACM will investigate sustainability claims in the transport sector in particular.

Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “Using vague and incorrect claims, companies pretend to be more sustainable that they actually are. Consumers are influenced by claims made by companies. To make consumers aware, ACM is launching the campaign ‘Groene praatjes’ today, via social media. Consumers can ask companies to substantiate their claims and report incorrect claims to us.”

Consumer study

ACM had a study conducted into consumers’ perceptions of sustainability claims. This study showed that consumers react skeptically to sustainability claims. The study revealed that consumers particularly considered the absolute or vague claims to be less credible. The more specific and more nuanced claims were often considered to be more credible by consumers. Consumers also considered incorrect claims to be less understandable than the correct claims. For example, consumers considered the claim ‘This is a fully-electric truck’ to be more understandable and more credible than the claim ‘Green on the road’.

The study also showed that consumers can be misled by incorrect claims, because consumers sometimes incorrectly associate a product with a more sustainable image sustainable due to incorrect claims. This means that consumers can think they are making a more sustainable choice on the basis of an incorrect assumption. It is important that consumers critically assess the claims they see. With this campaign, ‘Groene praatjes’, ACM points out to consumers the elements that can help them in assessing sustainability claims.

ACM’s investigations into sustainability claims

ACM previously carried out an investigation into sustainability claims in the clothing and energy sectors. Now, ACM has chosen to investigate the sustainability claims in the transport sector. Factors that came into consideration are the fact that many sustainability claims are made in this sector, the level of emissions, and because consumers consider sustainability when making purchasing decisions. In addition, ACM keeps a close watch on other sectors, partly via reports filed by consumers. ACM has to make choices about which misleading sustainability claims it handles and which not. With this approach, ACM can use various instruments to stop companies from using misleading claims, such as imposing fines or orders subject to periodic penalty payments.

Rules of thumb for sustainability claims

In June, ACM published the new version of its Guidelines regarding Sustainability Claims. These guidelines contain five rules of thumb to help companies phrase correct sustainability claims:

  1. Use correct, clear, specific and complete sustainability claims
  2. Substantiate your sustainability claims with facts, and keep them up-to-date
  3. Make fair comparisons with other products or competitors
  4. Describe your future sustainability ambitions in concrete and verifiable terms
  5. Make sure that visual claims and labels are useful to consumers, not confusing

ACM and sustainability

Sustainable production and consumption are essential in the transition to a more-sustainable society. Regulating the sustainability claims of companies contributes towards achieving that goal. Consumers must be able to make well-informed choices with confidence. Companies that make an effort towards achieving sustainability must be protected against companies that compete unfairly by using misleading claims. In addition, ACM wishes to create the right conditions for stimulating the transition to a more-sustainable economy. ACM removes barriers, and offers latitude, where possible. ACM ensures that markets work well for people and businesses, now and in the future.

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