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Food and drink brands called out for greenwashing; lessons we can learn.

The proposal of the Green Claims Directive was made by the European Commission on March 22, 2023, with the aim of establishing reliable, comparable, and verifiable green claims throughout the EU. Its objective is safeguarding consumers from misleading environmental claims, commonly known as greenwashing.

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) mandates that marketers must base their environmental claims on the complete life cycle of the promoted product, except when explicitly stated in the marketing communication, and must also specify the limitations of the life cycle.

In today's world, where consumers are increasingly becoming aware of green and purpose-washing practices, making accurate social and environmental claims is essential, and the food and beverage industry is no exception.

Here are some important lessons to learn from some industry cases:

Oatly Missed the Mark on Green Claims: The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned a high-profile advertising campaign by oat milk brand Oatly for misleading green claims. The ads compared the carbon footprint of Oatly's milk with dairy milk, but the claim could have been understood as a blanket comparison of all Oatly products and types of cow's milk. Oatly also implied a scientific consensus by referencing "climate experts" for their claim that switching to a vegan diet is the single biggest way to reduce environmental impact.

Lesson: Don't overstate green claims. Compare your impact fairly, and substantiate your claims.

Mega corporate-owned coffee brand Keurig K-Cup, agreed to pay $10 million after consumers sued over its coffee pod recyclability claims. Keurig marketed its K-Cups as recyclable, but most materials recycling facilities couldn't process the cups, resulting in them being disposed of or contaminating other recyclables.

Lesson: Make sure to understand the recyclability of packaging in the communities where it is sold.

The website for the meal kit subscription service Gousto, featured a blog entry titled "Why Gousto's Packaging Innovation Is A Huge Step Forward for Sustainability". It stated that "Eco Chill is a plastic-free insulation box …". A second ad third blog entries continued the theme claiming it was 100% recyclable. Grocery Delivery E-Services UK Ltd challenged whether the claims were misleading due to the box contained an ice pack made of low density polyethylene plastic. The ASA considered that consumers would interpret references to the "Eco Chill Box" in the ad to refer to the box as a whole, including all of its components.

Lesson: Ensure that any packaging marketed as sustainable is, in-fact sustainable. Consider how a consumer will use and dispose of the entire product. Brands using plastic packaging should consider alternative, potentially compostable, materials.

Terracycle Pushed Recycling Costs to Consumers: An environmental group launched a lawsuit against specialty products recycling company TerraCycle and consumer goods companies, including Gerber, Coca-Cola, and Late July Snacks. Consumers purchased products from these brands believing they could be recycled free of charge at the end of life due to TerraCycle recycling logos on the products' packaging. However, they often discovered that the brands' participation with TerraCycle was limited. TerraCycle and its partner companies agreed to notify consumers if a brand's capacity for free TerraCycle recycling was limited.

Lesson: Convey clear information to consumers about the options available upfront, rather than hiding them on brand websites or in marketing materials.

Innocent Brand Advert Not So Innocent After All: Smoothie brand Innocent had an advertisement banned by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), after it made misleading claims about its superfood smoothie products. The ad implied that the smoothies had a "high" nutritional content and contained antioxidant properties that could boost immunity. However, Innocent was unable to substantiate its claims.

Lesson: Ensure that claims are not exaggerated and that there is evidence to support them. If challenged, be prepared to defend them.

BrewDog lost its ethical B Corp certificate. The beer brand was subject to an investigation by B Lab after staff submitted complaints following a BBC documentary, Disclosure: The Truth About Brewdog, which looked at the brewer's workplace culture.

Lesson: If you are going to spend time on sustainability-focused accreditations and standards, do it for the right reasons, not as a marketing ploy.


Please contact the team to discover how SDG Changemakers can help you on your sustainability journey.

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Find out how you protect your Brand from green and purpose washing in our Marketing and Communications focused workshops for the food and beverage sector.

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