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Rules of thumb for sustainability claims have been finalized, serving as basis for ACM’s enforcement

Following a public consultation, the Guidelines regarding sustainability claims of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) have been finalized. With these Guidelines, ACM explains, using five rules of thumb, how businesses are able to prevent their sustainability claims from being unclear, incorrect or misleading for consumers. ACM will use these rules of thumb in its enforcement of the rules.

Businesses must provide consumers with correct and verifiable information about sustainability, thereby enabling consumers to compare goods and services properly, and businesses to compete fairly with one another. Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh, Member of the Board of ACM, comments: “Over the past few months, we have sat down with various market participants about our rules of thumb. Those discussions have helped us tighten and clarify several points in the Guidelines. Having correct sustainability claims is important for everyone involved. We will now start enforcing the rules”.

Public consultation of the Guidelines regarding sustainability claims has been completed

Following a public consultation, ACM has finalized the rules of thumb for sustainability claims that businesses use when selling their goods and services. With these definitive rules of thumb, ACM wishes that businesses will inform consumers correctly and completely about the sustainability attributes of their goods and services. This will help boost consumer confidence in sustainable products. As a result thereof, markets for sustainable goods and services are able to mature properly.

ACM received responses from 28 market participants during the public consultation. In addition, ACM also held discussions with businesses, trade associations, social organizations, and certification organizations. Following these discussions, ACM has changed and clarified the guidelines in several areas. For example, the information about visual sustainability claims, certification labels, and claims about organic products has been revised, and several examples in the Guidelines have been clarified. ACM has now finalized the Guidelines.

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

Preliminary study into misleading sustainability claims

Consumers that wish to contribute to a more sustainable society often choose sustainable products. Businesses capitalize on this trend using claims that their products are sustainable. However, their claims often contain incorrect, vague, or misleading information. This has been revealed by an online study of sustainability claims, which ACM conducted together with other European regulators in the CPC network, and also with other international regulators in the ICPEN network. In said study, ACM looked at sustainability claims in various industries, such as food, clothing, cosmetics, and domestic appliances. In the study, ACM saw examples where:

  • terms such as green, sustainable, and environmentally friendly were used frequently and without substantiation;
  • it is unclear to what products (or parts thereof) the claims apply;
  • the substantiation of the sustainability claims is unclear, or information thereof is unavailable.

In almost 50% of the cases, regulators doubted whether the claims were correct. Two in three claims lacked sufficient information in order to be able to determine whether the claim was correct.

ACM will start enforcing the rules

In part because of these findings, ACM will choose the industries where it will start enforcing the rules regarding misleading sustainability claims. Businesses that make sustainability claims that are incorrect or misleading can be fined by ACM. Sustainability is one of ACM's key priorities in 2021.


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