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Keeping you in-the-know on environmental, social and governance developments

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced recently that it will be investigating certain ‘green’ claims made by consumer goods company Unilever. Unilever owns many household brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Dove, and Knorr. The CMA’s inquiry will focus on validating claims made by Unilever regarding their product’s environmental impacts and use of natural ingredients. The CMA indicates that preliminary data suggests that some of Unilever’s claims may be overblown, and stated in its press release that the following types of statements will be under scrutiny:

  • “certain statements and language used by Unilever appear vague and broad, and may mislead shoppers regarding the environmental impact of those products.
  • claims about some ingredients are presented in a way that may exaggerate how ‘natural’ the product is, and so may create an inaccurate or misleading impression.
  • claims focusing on a single aspect of a product may suggest it is environmentally friendly as a whole.
  • certain green claims – particularly in relation to recyclability – may be unclear, as they fail to specify whether they relate to all or part of a product, or packaging.
  • Unilever’s use of colours and imagery – such as green leaves – may create the overall impression that some products are more environmentally friendly than they actually are.”

The CMA also notes that enforcement may not take the form of a lawsuit, though litigation is certainly on the table. If the CMA finds that Unilever’s statements are misleading it may require the company to alter its practices or change the way it markets its products.

The CMA’s investigation comes as countries around the world are trying to establish guidelines and rules for green marketing. In the US, the FTC is currently revising its Green Guides for Environmental Marketing and the EU is currently attempting to develop a batch of new consumer protection legislation. Companies would be wise to keep an eye on these developments and ensure that their marketing aligns with the relevant regulatory requirements and conveys their product’s sustainability impacts credibly.

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The Editor

Zachary Barlow is a licensed attorney. He earned his JD from the University of Mississippi and has a bachelor’s in Public Policy Leadership. He practiced law at a mid-size firm and handled a wide variety of cases. During this time he assisted in overseeing compliance of a public entity and litigated contract disputes, gaining experience both in and outside of the courtroom. Zachary currently assists the editorial team by providing research and creating content on a spectrum of ESG… View Profile