Sustainability with substance: how to make claims that win trust

The consequences of getting environmental claims wrong could include the ASA banning an advert or the CMA issuing a fine. Iona Silverman, Intellectual Property and Media Partner at Freeths, looks at how to make the right type of claims.

Sustainability matters to consumers, and companies are increasingly making changes to be more sustainable. But if you get it wrong, accusations of greenwashing can damage your reputation. With the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) scrutinising green claims, getting it right has never been more important.

Freeths marketing and advertising experts Iona Silverman and Jane Kennedy share their top 10 tips for knowing your risk in relation to environmental claims, informed by the CMA’s green claims code.

Substantiate your claims

Use robust, credible and up-to-date evidence. Any claims must be factual and backed up by appropriate data; be truthful and accurate; and be clear. You must be able to substantiate the entirety of the claim across the whole of the product for the length of its life cycle.

Be clear and unambiguous

Broad claims are more likely to be misleading without an explanation and are more difficult to substantiate. A broad, absolute claim such as ‘environmentally friendly’ requires you to demonstrate that your product or service has no detrimental effect at all on the environment through its entire life cycle. Buzzwords like ‘green’ or ‘clean’ are also ambiguous so avoid them.

Avoid future focused statements and pledges

Instead, be specific. Tell consumers specifically what you are doing to achieve your sustainability goals.

Give consumers access to more information

Use a QR code or a web page that’s easily accessible for customers to find further information about your environmental claims.

Make fair and meaningful comparisons

Comparisons should be like-for-like and based on clear, current, objective information. The basis for any comparison should be made clear, for example “x uses 33% less water than y”.

Give the whole picture

Claims must not omit important, relevant information or cherry pick information to make your product seem better than it is.  Your product may not be bad for the environment. If that’s the case, suggesting that you have changed it to make it more environmentally friendly will be seen as misleading by the regulators.

This could include, for example, highlighting the absence of an environmentally damaging ingredient if your product never typically contains that ingredient.

Look at the full life cycle

When judging a product’s environmental impact look from creation to disposal including manufacture, transport, use, performance, disposal and any waste consequences. Similarly, don’t make a general claim about part of your product.

For a product to be 100% recyclable every single part of the product has to be recyclable. If a small part can’t be recycled, don’t make the claim.

Avoid assumptions

Don’t suggest that your claim is universally accepted unless it is. If there is a divergence of opinion, be that scientific or popular, you shouldn’t suggest that one school of thought is the only one.

Consider certification

Certification marks show that a product or service has complied with certain standards and can help to substantiate your claims. There are hundreds out there so look for what certifications other companies in your sector are using.

Alternatively, you could apply for B Corp status, demonstrating that your business meets high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.

Above all, live the sustainability journey

Consumers and press will pick up on inauthentic green claims.

The consequences of getting environmental claims wrong could include the ASA banning an advert or the CMA issuing a fine. But the biggest risk is the damage to your reputation in the eyes of consumers who increasingly expect companies to be more sustainable.

The Freeths IP team regularly reviews advertising copy for TV and media, ensuring any environmental claim is compliant with the green claims code and advertising regulations more widely. If you need further assistance, please contact the IP & Media team at

Send this to a friend