Question : I have become aware of a company that is making false claims about its 'green' credentials? Is there anything I can do about it?
Michael King, associate solicitor in the Litigation Department of Cleaver Fulton Rankin replies:
Answer: The company in question is 'greenwashing' and there are several options available to deal with it.
Greenwashing describes how companies hide conventional business practices behind a thin veneer of green marketing.
Some signs that would point towards greenwashing in advertising are: vague language, for example 'eco friendly'.
It could also use green images such as flowers, trees etc to associate a product with an unjustified green impact.
There may be irrelevant claims, which are relatively nominal to the products overall green impact and false endorsements by a third party such as Friends of the Earth.
A complaint can be made directly to the Advertising Standards Authority for breach of its Code on allegations of greenwashing.
The Company maybe requested to remove or alter the offending advertisement. If the company fails or refuses to do so, the Advertising Standards authority has the power to refer to the matter to the Office of Fair Trading.
The matter can also be referred directly to the Office of Fair Trade (trading standard officer of the local council in Northern Ireland) by the consumer.
The basis for the referral is treating consumers unfairly or misleading them under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Treatment Regulations 2008.
If a company is prosecuted, fines or penal sanctions can be imposed.
There is also the potential for injunctive relief to remove an offending advertisement.