In September 2021, the UK government’s Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) published its Green Claims Code; designed to protect consumers from misleading environmental claims across all products, services, brands or businesses on the market. The Code outlined six points industry must follow to ensure all environmental claims were genuinely green. Under the guidance, claims must be: truthful and accurate; clear and unambiguous; must not omit or hide information; only make fair and meaningful comparisons; and be substantiated.
Applicable to all products and services available in the UK, domestic and imported, the CMA’s Green Claims Code was now, therefore, an additional reference point for all industries on top of existing regulations – for beauty that was the EU Cosmetics Regulation 1223/2009 and the aligned UK Cosmetics Regulation [Schedule 34 of the Product Safety and Metrology Statutory Instrument].
The CMA said the Code, now in place for several months, would be followed up with enforcements by the regulator this year under the form of a compliance review.
Dr Emma Meredith, director-general of the UK’s Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA), said it was an important Code for all industries, including beauty.
“I think it’s important that companies just take a step back and really look at the messaging they’re giving to consumers. That’s no bad thing, because we don’t want to be accused of greenwashing. We know that consumers want to do the right thing; and we want to be able to help consumers make the right choices,” Meredith told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.
“I’m not saying there is necessarily an issue, but I think it’s important for everybody to step back and look at those claims and make sure the words being used actually reflect the substantiation. To be honest, that goes with all claims – it’s really important that companies look at the data and see what claim can be substantiated (…) It has to be data-led,” she said.
‘Clear and unambiguous’ – certain beauty claims may need ‘review’
For beauty and personal care businesses, she said the key aspect of the Green Claims Code likely to be most relevant was the clear and unambiguous point because that could mean a “review or focus” on common generalised marketing terms that consumers may not easily understand but be drawn to – the likes of ‘green’, ‘eco’, ‘biodegradable’ and even ‘clean’. That might also mean using other communication channels, like company websites or social media platforms, to “unpick” some of those words and go beyond the claims to engage further with consumers, she said.
“The ambiguity is the concern if companies are using terms that are not generally understood. Obviously, the companies themselves have their ethos and understanding, but perhaps the consumer hasn’t been taken on that journey with them and may think something very different,” she said.
Another aspect the Code would push beauty to think more carefully about was the whole lifecycle of a product, Meredith said, and whether green claims made represented the entirety of that lifecycle or just one small aspect. And on this point, she said there would be a certain level of consumer education required. “In our messaging, we need to perhaps explain the lifecycle of a product.”
Building trust and reputation in beauty
“…We want to make sure consumers do and can trust us,” she said. And guidance like the Green Claims Code offered a valuable tool for industry to use to raise the reputation and trust in the sector, she said, as well as show consumers more specifically just how “very, very seriously” it was taking the responsibility of making claims.
“Industry is innovative. It wants to do the right thing. We just need to be looking at our claims through the Green Claims Code prism to make sure the words we’re using are not ambiguous or misleading the consumer and leading to greenwashing,” Meredith said.