More than half of online product claims to be green were ‘vague’ with ‘insufficient elaboration or details’: CCCS study

The CCCS has advised suppliers to be clearer about their terms and to explain any technical terms included.

A study by the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) found that 51% of online products claiming to be green were found to be “vague” with “insufficient elaboration or details to support the claims”. The study also found that 14% of online product claims use technical language that made it difficult for consumers to understand or verify the claim.

The CCCS, in March 2022, awarded a grant to researchers from the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore Business School to look into such practices. The grant was made in a bid to better understand greenwashing on e-commerce websites in Singapore.

The term “greenwashing” is generally used for a supplier who deceives or misleads its consumers into believing that its practices or goods and services are more environmentally positive or have greater environmental benefits than is indeed the case.

On the vague environmental claims, CCCS notes that terms such as “environmentally friendly”, “eco-friendly”, “green”, “sustainable”, “good for the Earth”, “natural”, “conscious”, “responsible” are unclear and prone to overstatement or an exaggeration of the product’s environmental benefits. For instance, a product that is marketed as “environmentally friendly” containing only 10% of recycled material may be misleading if it is marketed to give consumers the impression that the product is made entirely of recycled material.

As such, the CCCS advises suppliers to be specific with their environmental claims and present any qualifying information to back them up. Suppliers should also avoid making claims that would imply or convey the overall impression that their products are more beneficial to the environment than claimed. All environmental claims also have to be substantiated with valid and credible evidence.

Technical jargon, which may confuse or mislead consumers, should also be simplified for consumers to better understand what they’re buying. The meaning of technical terms should also be explained.

Consumers, on the other hand, facing potentially false or misleading environmental claims can approach the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) for help. Consumers can also report potentially misleading advertisements from suppliers.

To address such conduct and other potential greenwashing behaviour by suppliers identified in the study, the CCCS is developing a set of guidelines to provide greater clarity to suppliers on the environmental claims that could amount to unfair practices under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act. Views from the public will be sought on the guidelines in due course.

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