Almost half of shopping websites exaggerating green credentials

Almost half of shopping websites exaggerating green credentials

In more than 50% of cases, authorities said sites did not provide enough information to back up their claims. File Picture.

European authorities have vowed to crack down on firms embellishing their environmental credentials after an EU-wide consumer probe found almost half (42%) of websites and shopping portals contained false or deceptive claims.

The European Commission, in conjunction with the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) network, carries out annual 'sweeps' on various issues that could be damaging to consumers, and in November it set its sights on investigating and assessing green claims in various business sectors.

So-called 'greenwashing' is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound. 

Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company's products are environmentally friendly.

Sweeps conducted by the authorities over the past 20 years have included a focus on websites selling air tickets, ring tones for mobile phones, electronic goods, tickets for cultural and sports events, consumer credit, digital content, travel services, and guarantees in consumer electronics.

Comparison tools in the travel sector led to action in 2016, while sweeps on consumer scams related to the Covid-19 pandemic were a focus last year.

The latest sweep assessed 344 sustainability claims, primarily made by EU traders, aimed at consumers mainly on web stores, but also on traders’ websites. 

The sweep primarily looked at various business sectors including textiles, garments, and shoes, followed by cosmetics, personal care goods, and household equipment.

It was revealed that in almost half of the cases, authorities had at least a reason to believe that the claim may be false or deceptive and potentially could be qualified as an unfair commercial practice.

CPC authorities looked at what information was easily available to consumers to check the claim and how the claims were presented. 

They found that:

  • In 57.5% of cases, CPC authorities did not consider that the trader provided sufficient information which would allow to assess the claim’s accuracy.
  • In 37% of cases, CPC authorities considered that the claim included vague statements such as “environmental friendly”, “eco-friendly”, or “sustainable” which aimed to convey the impression to consumers that a product or a trader’s activity had no negative impact, or only a positive impact, on the environment.
  • In 59% of cases (198 cases), CPC authorities found that the trader had not provided a qualification or other evidence to support its claim in an easily accessible way.

There were also brazen lies told by a small number of websites, suggesting that the good or service had been approved, endorsed or authorised by a public or private body when it has not been.

EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders said: “More and more people want to live a green life, and I applaud companies that strive to produce eco-friendly products or services. 

"However, there are also unscrupulous traders out there, who pull the wool over consumers' eyes with vague, false or exaggerated claims. The Commission is fully committed to empowering consumers in the green transition and fighting greenwashing."

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