Many UK brands overstate green claims

29 April 2010

LONDON: The eco-friendly claims made by many brands in the UK are misleading shoppers, who often pay a premium to buy goods with these credentials.

Which, the consumer magazine, asked a panel of experts to assess how well 14 products in this sector, including household cleaners, laundry tablets, nappies and baby wipes, delivered on their promises.

It found that while most of the goods concerned did offer some environmental benefits, packaging and labelling often lacked clarity, while many brands did not perform better than standard alternatives.

Ecover, which makes a wide range of detergents, personal care and laundry products said to be more beneficial to the environment, received some heavy criticism of "greenwashing".

Tesco's toilet cleaner brand, Naturally, also bases its eco-friendly status on the fact that it is free from phosphates, but this was found to be true in almost all regular offerings as well.

In the same category, Sainsbury's Cleanhome purports to be "kinder to the environment and biodegradable" as it has less of a harmful impact on rivers once it has entered the water system.

However, Which's experts stated that there was no evidence to support this claim when measured against other brands available in stores.

Laundry tablets from Procter & Gamble's Ariel and Unilever's Persil were not criticised in the same way in the study, but were cited as examples of manufacturers offering insufficient information.

A logo featured on the packaging for these tablets suggested they helped customers become more green, but failed to say whether this was because of the product itself or only if users washed their clothes at a lower temperature.

"When companies make clear green claims, it helps consumers make eco-choices with confidence," said Martyn Hocking, the editor of Which.

"But our experts concluded many of the companies did not provide enough evidence to back up their claims and thought that some were exaggerated. This makes it hard for people to choose." 

More positively, disposable nappies and wipes made by Sainsbury's and Asda, the supermarket chains, received a favourable rating from Which's panel.

Data sourced from Independent/Daily Telegraph; additional content by Warc staff