But with no standardised way to measure whether the materials used to produce a particular piece are sustainable or not, consumers face confusing claims and counterclaims. This is where the Green Claims Code checklist comes in.
The checklist accompanies the Green Claims Code and sets out 13 key statements with which businesses must be able to adhere to when making a green claim.
So, what are the key statements in the checklist and the actions that brands can take to enable compliance and so avoid claims of greenwashing?
1. Evidence, evidence, evidence
A key element to supporting your brand's green claim is making sure that all green claims are credible and are capable of being evidenced. This goes back to the start of the supply chain. Where a "Green" or "Responsible" label is used on clothing products or in respect of ranges you must be able to clearly show that these claims are accurate and are in place across the entire supply chain.
This is key to avoid greenwashing claims. According to the Green Claims Code, "green" claims must be capable of being substantiated. This overarching point is covered by a range of statements within the checklist. Conversely it is important to avoid "puff" or hyperbole.
It follows that if using generalised and subjective wording such as "We have the most sustainable fashion collection in the UK", there needs to be evidence to substantiate such a claim – which given that it is an absolute claim may be very difficult to demonstrate. Using broad terms is not a work around for a lack of evidence!
2. Tell the truth
Though it should be a given, all claims made must be accurate and truthful as well as being clear to understand.
One example that has achieved recent media attention is the reliability of the Higg Index created by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition since the ban on the Index's use by the Norwegian Consumer Authority.
Similar issues were echoed a few weeks ago in a class action brought against H&M in New York claiming false advertising in the water usage of its "conscious" collection.
When a consumer is looking to purchase a product made, for example, from organic components, it is clear that they expect the majority of the product to be made from organic materials. If only 20% of the components of the product are deemed to be organic in origin, this is likely to be misleading. But in the absence of a statutory definition of "organic" available, this becomes a further grey area!
3. Keep it fair
Any comparisons made to other products must be both fair and meaningful. This includes comparing the recyclable content of two products, or for example, the CO2 emissions emitted or the amount of water used during production.
Where used, any comparisons made must be calculated in the same way on comparable products. The CMA guidance is that comparisons should be avoided if possible, as vague or incoherent statements do not help to substantiate comparisons.
Where used, comparisons should be specific and quantify the comparison.
4. Do not try to hide
When making a "green" claim about a product line, the claim must not omit or hide any important information. Brands should avoid "cherry picking" information that paints a positive environmental picture when this is not the full story.
When a brand is providing an explanation of a green claim, it should make sure that further information is easily available to consumers. A rule of thumb is that if all the relevant information cannot be communicated in fair way to every potential consumer (for example, on the product label) the brand should reconsider the fairest method of communication to all consumers.
5. The supply chain is accountable
Green claims must be able to be substantiated at all stages of the supply chain. Brands making such claims need to be able to provide evidence that their suppliers are meeting the environmental standards.
To achieve this, brands may wish to ask for additional protection from suppliers such as additional environmental clauses in their manufacturing contracts or by providing additional evidence of production processes and fibre contents.
Take home points
As sustainability grows in importance for the fashion industry, brands are increasingly looking to release sustainable, "green" products.
Those doing so need to ensure that they stay in line with the 13 points of the Green claims checklist to avoid investigation by the CMA.
The consequences of not doing so include significant fines, actions by consumers, claims by shareholders, infringing product labelling requirements, public shaming – and ultimately damage to brand reputation.
Research assistance provided by Gia Andreou.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.