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Consumer advice information

Environmental claims

In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

Consumers are becoming more aware of the impact that products and services can have on the environment and their buying decisions are increasingly influenced by 'environmental' or 'green' claims made by traders.

There are laws in place designed to protect the consumer from misleading environmental claims made by a manufacturer, importer or retailer. Guidance is available from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on the use of green claims and an international standard, which states that green claims should not be vague or ambiguous.

The Advertising Standards Authority also has a code in relation to advertisements, which in general are required to be legal, decent honest and truthful.

What does 'green' mean?

Many consumers who are concerned about buying products and services that may harm the environment want to make informed choices about the products and services they buy, seeking out those with a lower impact on the environment.

Manufacturers and retailers are tapping into, and often driving, consumer demand for 'environmentally friendly' products and services by making statements on packaging and labelling and through marketing and advertising designed to raise awareness of those products and services and their environmental qualities. There are also sound business reasons for a manufacturer and retailer to take this approach as it enhances their 'green' credentials and demonstrates a responsible approach to trading.

Environmental claims can take many forms and include specific symbols such as those that mean a product has been certified as organic, claims about recyclability and claims about energy efficiency.

In order for a consumer to make informed choices the trader must provide clear, truthful and accurate information about the environmental claims they have made, which must be capable of being substantiated. The trader should not make vague or ambiguous claims, nor should they mislead consumers by implying that their environmental claims relate to the entire product when this is not the case. A trader must not claim that they, or the product or service, are endorsed by an environmental organisation or official body when they are not.

Sometimes the overall presentation of the product or service - the words, images and style of packaging - can mislead consumers if they are not relevant, accurate or truthful.

See the Green claims guidance page of the GOV.UK website for more information.

Green labels

These can provide a useful and recognisable indication for consumers that a product or service is making a specific environmental claim. There are many different labels and some are given below.

RECYCLING

The 'Mobius loop' is an internationally recognised symbol that means that the product, or some of the product, contains recycled material or is capable of being recycled. Check that the manufacturer has included an explanatory statement alongside the symbol. Local authorities can give advice to consumers about recycling facilities in their area.

Loop

Look out for on-pack recycling labels such as the ones below that give you information on whether you can recycle the packaging locally or not.

Widely recycled

'Widely recycled' - collected at kerbside in at least 75% of local authorities.

Check local recycling

'Check local recycling'- 20% to 75% of local authorities collect the material at the kerbside.

EUROPEAN ECOLABEL

This is a European Union symbol for specific products and services that indicates that they have met strict criteria and been independently certified to show they have less impact on the environment. The EU Ecolabel criteria assesses every stage of a product's lifecycle from manufacturing and use through to disposal. Defra is responsible for running the EU Ecolabel scheme in the UK.

EU Ecolabel

EUROPEAN ENERGY LABEL

The Energy Information Regulations 2011 state that European manufacturers and retailers must inform consumers about the energy efficiency of household electrical products, such as fridges, freezers, washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers, televisions, air conditioners and lamps.

Household products that the Regulations apply to must have an EU energy label clearly displayed at the point of sale. Energy consumption information should also be made available to consumers before they buy the product and in any after-sales or product literature. The energy efficiency is rated from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient) so that consumers can compare them easily. Energy efficiency grades of A+, A++ and A+++ for the most efficient appliances now appear on labels. Labels may also carry information specific to the product, such as noise and water consumption, to assist with the buying decision.

Example of an energy information label for a refrigerator:

Energy information label

CAR ENERGY LABELLING

The Passenger Car (Fuel Consumption and CO2 Emissions Information) Regulations 2001 state that car dealers must clearly display a fuel economy label on or near each new passenger car on display for sale or lease and for the model to which that car belongs. It is an offence for a dealer not to display this information. The label provides information about CO2 emissions and fuel consumption and allows the consumer to make an informed decision about a particular car. An amendment to the law means that it now applies to electric vehicles, electric plug-in hybrid vehicles and bi-fuelled vehicles. Dealers are also required to provide a copy of a 'fuel economy guide' to the consumer on request and display a poster setting out the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions for every model of the particular make of car that is on display for sale or lease. Visit the Vehicle Certification Agency website for more information on fuel consumption labelling.

The car industry has voluntarily introduced a labelling scheme that resembles the EU energy label used for household products.

TYRE LABELLING

EU regulation on the labelling of tyres provides vehicle users with clear information to allow them to choose tyres that are fuel efficient, have better wet braking and are less noisy. The label ranks tyres on a scale from A (highest performing) to G (lowest performing).

Tyre label

Green claims

The general environmental benefits of a product or service should not be supported by vague, non-specific claims such as 'environmentally friendly', 'green' or 'ozone friendly'.

ORGANIC

Claims about a product being 'organic' can only be made if that product complies with EU legislation for organic products or production.

REUSEABLE AND REFILLABLE

Should only be used if the packaging for the product can easily be reused or refilled with the same or a similar product.

DEGRADEABLE

This means that the product is designed to breakdown in certain conditions and within a certain timescale.

What the law says

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibit commercial practices that are unfair to consumers. If a trader misleads you or engages in an aggressive commercial practice and you make a decision to purchase goods or services that you would not otherwise have done, the trader may be in breach of the Regulations. There are 31 specific banned commercial practices set out in the Regulations, some of which are detailed below:

  • claiming to be a signatory of a code of conduct when the trader is not
  • displaying a trust mark, quality mark or equivalent without authorisation
  • falsely claiming that a trader (including their commercial practices) or a product has been approved, endorsed or authorised be a public or private body without complying with the terms of the approval, endorsement or authorisation

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 sets out what you are entitled to expect from goods supplied by a trader. These are commonly referred to as your 'statutory rights'. The law states, amongst other things, that goods supplied must be 'as described', if you saw or examined a sample of the goods then they must match the sample and if you saw or examined a model of the goods then they must match the model. An environmental claim must be accurate and capable of being substantiated. Public statements made by manufacturers, importers or producers about specific characteristics of the goods - for example, environmental claims in marketing and advertising - must be accurate and can be taken into account when deciding if goods are satisfactory. The 'Sale & supply of goods - your consumer rights' guide gives more information.

Under the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015 the volume and weight of the packaging must be the minimum amount to maintain necessary levels of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and for the consumer. Packaging must be manufactured to allow for re-use or recovery in accordance with certain requirements. These Regulations also control the amount of dangerous materials and substances allowed in packaging with regards to their emissions, ash or leachate when incinerated or put in landfill.

What to do if you think a claim is misleading

If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because the trader used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. The 'Misleading & aggressive practices - your right to redress'  guide gives more information.

Trading standards services enforce a wide range of legislation relating to environmental and misleading claims. They ensure that traders comply with the requirements of the Regulations and take action when they do not comply. If you have been misled by claims made by a trader, contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which will refer your complaint to trading standards.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the independent regulator of all media advertising in the UK. It acts on complaints and monitors the media for advertising that may be misleading. The ASA judges complaints about misleading environmental claims against the relevant code of advertising practice. If you have been misled by claims made by a trader in an advertisement, you can complain to the ASA.

Useful contacts

Advertising Standards Authority
Mid City Place, 71 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6QT 
Tel: 020 7492 2222

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR 
Tel: 03459 33 55 77

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: August 2016

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.

© 2017 itsa Ltd.

The county council is not responsible for this information.