Environmental claims and labels: guidance for businesses
Environmental (or ‘green’) claims and labels enable businesses to highlight the environmental impact and qualities of products and services to help consumers make informed buying choices.
Businesses can also enhance their reputation and demonstrate that they are acting responsibly to their consumers, business partners and regulators by providing credible information. Often these actions can steer the market towards products with a reduced environmental impact.
Environmental claims and labels must be credible to consumers, clearly understood, and genuinely reflect a benefit to the environment. This guide provides links to a range of tools and resources for both mandatory and voluntary schemes to help business provide useful and accurate information, which is fair and not misleading.
Defra’s green claims guidance (2011) provides advice to business for clear, accurate, relevant and substantiated environmental claims on products, services or in marketing and advertising. To complement the guidance, a summary ‘quick guide’ gives a brief overview of the essential aspects of a good environmental claim.
Useful research that informed the guidance includes:
- Consumer understanding of environmental terms
- Assessment of green claims in marketing
- Assessment of green claims on products
Some industry sector specific guides include:
- Green claims guidance in the decorative coatings sector
- Green claims guidance in the aerosol sector
- Best practice principles for environmental claims in the automotive sector (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership and ISBA)
European energy label
The mandatory European Energy Label requires producers of certain types of products (including refrigerators and freezers, washing machines, ovens and lamps) to show information that helps consumers compare energy efficiency between products.
Guidance on the existing EU Framework Directive covering Energy Labelling and individual product measures is available. Aintroduces requirements for advertisers.
Defra is working in partnership with retailers to communicate the changes in the EU Energy Label to consumers. Communications material include a leaflet, posters, staff training material, internet banners and articles for in store and online magazines. If you wish to discuss the possibility of working in partnership with Defra please contact: email@example.com
The EU Ecolabel scheme is a voluntary labelling scheme designed to help consumers identify products with the lowest environmental impact. Companies who believe that their products can meet the demanding Ecolabel standard must have this independently assessed and verified before being allowed to carry the distinctive EU Ecolabel Flower logo. Looking for the Ecolabel Flower logo makes it simple for consumers to have confidence in the reduced environmental impact of the product that they are buying.
The EU Ecolabel scheme continues to grow year on year, in both the number and range of different products that it covers. Defra operates the EU Ecolabel in the UK and is keen to encourage this growth. More information on the products covered, the verification process and how to apply is available at the link below.
There are a range of different voluntary labels related to the environmental impact of food. Labels often focus on single environmental issues like ‘organic’. But there is increasing interest in reducing the environmental impact of food across a range of environmental indicators to improve the sustainability of our food supply long term (see The Foresight project Global Food and Farming Futures report. The viability of food eco-labelling is being explored across Europe at various levels including the industry-led EU Sustainable Consumption and Production Food Round Table and through the Eu Ecolabel.
Defra also has wider responsibilities on food labelling and food compositional standards where this does not relate to food safety or nutrition.
False or misleading claims and labels
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 requires all information to consumers to be fair and honest. If you believe that a claim is false or misleading, even after explanations from the retailer or manufacturer, you are entitled to take this up with the relevant enforcement body.
Defra has no enforcement role in relation to misleading claims and labels, except for labelling schemes for which Defra itself is responsible, like the European Ecolabel. The bodies with a role in enforcing or regulating environmental claims, where you can go for advice or further information, are:
- Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which is responsible for consumer protection legislation - it is possible to make a complaint under the Regulations via the Consumer Direct website provided by BIS
- the National Measurement Office (NMO) in the UK is responsible for enforcement of eco-design of energy using products and European energy labels requirements
- your local authority trading standards service, or your local authority, will be able to advise you on how to take forward any complaint - you can contact them on www.tradingstandards.gov.uk, or via Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06, in Northern Ireland enforcement responsibilities rest with the Trading Standards Service of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, rather than local authorities
- Advertising Standards Authority takes complaints about all advertisements and promotions, including broadcast adverts, which ensures standards are adhered to through the application of the advertising standards codes (CAP and BCAP codes)
- Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) (who writes the non-broadcast Advertising Code) provides pre-publication advice via its CopyAdvice service - UK TV and radio adverts are pre-cleared through Clearcast, and the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre respectively, all 3 bodies can provide advice on how to get your green claims right
- the on-pack recycling label scheme aims to deliver a simpler, UK-wide, consistent, recycling message on both retailer private label and brand-owner packaging to help consumers recycle more material, more often
- ISEAL Alliance - the global association for social and environmental standards systems that sets codes of good practice to strengthen existing voluntary standard systems.
- Global Ecolabelling Network - non-profit association of third-party, environmental performance labelling organisations to improve, promote, and develop the ‘ecolabelling’ of products and services.
- UK’s Fuel Economy Label for cars, which appears on all new cars in the UK