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Going forward, Greenchoice and Vattenfall will provide better information about sustainability to consumers

Energy suppliers Vattenfall and Greenchoice have made commitments to the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) promising to adjust or no longer use sustainability claims on their websites. The two suppliers have committed to informing consumers more clearly in order to minimize the risk of misleading practices involving sustainability claims. In addition, they will make donations of 950.000 euros and 450,000 euros, respectively, to different sustainable causes to compensate for their use of unclear and insufficiently substantiated sustainability claims. Vattenfall and Greenchoice have made these commitments following an ACM investigation. ACM will therefore not impose any sanctions.

Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh, Member of the Board of ACM, explains: ‘Consumers that wish to make sustainable choices must be able to have confidence in the veracity of the claims that businesses make on their websites. We are pleased to see that these companies have acknowledged that they should have informed consumers more clearly about sustainability, and that they will adjust various sustainability claims and their substantiations. They will also take measures to inform their customers better in the future. We also welcome their commitment to donate generous sums of money to sustainable causes as compensations for their vague sustainability claims’.

What was this case about?

ACM has seen many potentially misleading sustainability claims in the energy sector. That is why, in the spring of 2021, ACM asked energy suppliers to take a critical look at their claims. ACM subsequently continued its investigation into Greenchoice and Vattenfall. The investigation revealed, for example, that Vattenfall and Greenchoice present themselves as sustainable through their use of comparisons. It was, however, not clear what these comparisons were based on and whom or what was compared with.

In the course of the investigation, the two suppliers indicated they were willing to adjust their practices, and to make commitments. ACM will enforce compliance with these commitments over the next two years.

Guidelines regarding sustainability claims

Businesses that wish to promote their products using sustainability claims must make sure that such claims are correct, clear, and verifiable. Otherwise, consumers will be misled. ACM examines in different sectors whether businesses use sustainability claims in accordance with the rules.

ACM has explained the rules in its Guidelines regarding sustainability claims. These contain five rules of thumb for businesses that wish to use sustainability claims. The five rules of thumb for honest sustainability claims are:

  1. Make clear what sustainability benefit the product offers
  2. Substantiate your sustainability claims with facts, and keep them up-to-date
  3. Comparisons with other products, services, or companies must be fair
  4. Be honest and specific about your company’s efforts with regard to sustainability
  5. Make sure that visual claims and labels are useful to consumers, not confusing
ACM will continue to keep a close watch on the energy sector. ACM cannot rule out that, if it establishes a violation in the future, it will impose fines.

ACM and sustainability

ACM ensures that markets work for people and businesses, now and in the future. Sustainable products and consumption are important in the transition to a more sustainable society. With its oversight over sustainability claims, ACM plays its part in that process. Consumers must be able to make sustainable choices with confidence, and businesses that undertake sustainability efforts must be protected against businesses compete unfairly by using misleading claims. In addition, ACM wishes to create the right conditions for promoting the sustainability transition. ACM eliminates obstacles, and offers leeway where needed and possible.

See also

10-10-2022 Commitment decision for Greenchoice regarding sustainability claims (in Dutch)
10-10-2022 Commitment decision for Vattenfall regarding sustainability claims (in Dutch)
13-9-2022 Going forward, Decathlon and H&M will provide better information about sustainability to consumers
25-1-2022 ACM continues its campaign against misleading sustainability claims in the energy sector