Press release

Defra helps companies build confidence in green claims

Defra today published new Green Claims Guidance to help companies describe the environmental credentials of their products in a way that people find easier to understand.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Guidance is designed to help consumers make more informed judgements about what they buy, prevent misleading claims and encourage the development of greener products.

As people look to purchase more products promising less environmental impact they often have to face a confusing array of advertising labels. More products enter the market every day and they tend to bring a new crop of environmental terms along with them - while recycling is well understood newer phrases like ‘negative carbon footprint’ can seem more confusing.

Research suggests that consumers find it difficult to know which products are better for the environment. At the same time, businesses faced with a crowded marketplace can find it difficult to communicate about genuine improvements they have made to their products.

Environment Minister Lord Henley said:

“Sales of ‘green’ goods contribute billions of pounds towards the economy while helping to reduce our impact on the environment. If people are making the effort to buy green it is only right that we try to make the process as easy as possible. Our guide will make things easier for both business and consumer - helping restore public faith in environmental advertising and acting as a resource for companies developing more sustainable products.”

Corporate Sustainability Manager for Marks & Spencer, Rowland Hill said:

“We welcome the new Green Claims Guidance which will help companies to market products and services that are more sustainable. It’s in everybody’s best interest that sustainable products are legitimately promoted to replace less sustainable alternatives. Marks & Spencer launched sustainability targets back in 2007 to help our customers live more sustainably and make informed choices about what they buy.”

Environment Manager for The Co-operative Food, Iain Ferguson said:

“We welcome Defra’s updated Guidance which is designed to make products’ environmental claims more robust for the benefit of customers while keeping abreast of a fast-developing market. We are delighted to have assisted in this review process, having applied the Guidance since it was first published in 2003.”

Defra’s new updated Guidance is informed by a suite of research and recommends that companies use clear language when making environmental claims. Findings indicated that while participants were familiar with a range of different terms, some phrases like ‘energy efficient’ were better understood than others such as ‘carbon negative’.

Businesses are encouraged to follow three key ‘steps’ in order to build consumer confidence in the environmental attributes of their products:

  • Ensure the content of the claim is relevant and reflects a genuine benefit to the environment;
  • Present the claim clearly and accurately; and
  • Ensure the claim can be substantiated.

The Guidance is designed as a proactive toolkit - using principles and practical examples to help businesses get their green claims right. Read the full Guidance or the shorter ‘quick guide’


  1. The Co-operative’s annual ethical consumerism report shows spending on ‘green’ products in Britain increased from £1.4bn 1999 to £7bn in 2009.

  2. The Guidance is an update to Defra’s previous Green Claims - Practical Guidance (2003) and Green Claims Code (2000) reflecting changes in the market since that time. The Guidance went through public consultation in 2010 and is widely supported by industry as important to help provide clarity in the market.

  3. The updated Guidance took into consideration the consultation responses and aimed to make the document more user-friendly with clearer examples to illustrate the principles. It also draws on wider research commissioned by Defra, including:

  • Consumer understanding of green terms (Brook Lyndhurst and Icaro Consulting, 2011)
  • An assessment of green claims in marketing (Brook Lyndhurst, Icaro Consulting and AAI+Friends, 2010)
  • An assessment of green claims on products (Five Winds International, 2010)
  1. The Guidance was updated with assistance of a steering group that included the Advertising Standards Authority, Advertising Association, Department of Business Innovation and Skills, British Retail Consortium, CBI, Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), Chartered institute of Public Relations (CIPR), COI, Consumer Focus, DECC, Department for Transport, Forum for the Future, Institute for Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), ISBA, Office of Fair Trading, Sustainable Development Commission.
Published 2 February 2011