How will the Green Claims Code help drive brand transparency and also clamp down on brands bending the rules?
Most obviously, beauty brands and retailers know they’ve been put on notice about greenwashing and that there will be legal repercussions if their claims fail to comply come the New Year. It’s worth noting that the CMA has specifically called out beauty amongst key focus industries for its own investigation.
But besides the threat of legal action, the Green Claims Code is a very empowering guide for brands. Many who have made great strides on reducing their social and environmental impact have previously been reluctant to share this publicly because of the lack of a “blueprint” for how to communicate this progress. The Green Claims Code gives marketers a practical checklist for making environmental claims—by preventing the green-hush effect [companies hiding sustainability efforts due to fear of public criticism], it will drive confident brand transparency amongst legitimately “green” businesses.
What does this regulation mean for the future of not just clean beauty but the beauty industry in general?
Brands will have to stop dressing up legal obligations as product benefits. In the UK/EU, we often see “clean” beauty brands promoting the absence of harmful chemicals and ingredients that are in fact legally prohibited. One of the implications of the Green Claims Code is that brands will have to stop marketing their products with these claims.
As a more general point, the Green Claims Code promotes the importance of clearly defined claims and substantiation. Without explaining and proving their claims, beauty brands will no longer be able to market products as “organic” or “carbon neutral”—they’ll need to define these terms and deliver the evidence.
Do you see this kind of reinforcement catching on globally? If not, what factors stand in the way of its adoption?
I expect environmental claims to be targeted more and more by regulators across the world. We’re seeing a number of European bodies start to take action, and in the US, a growing number of lawsuits has prompted intervention from advertising trade bodies.
There will, however, be differences in the strength of standards from country to country, and of course, it remains to be seen how they will be enforced. As each country rolls out its own framework for sustainability claims, navigating the legislation map will become a big challenge for brands. But guides like the Green Claims Code will help global brands translate the reality of their supply chain into language that’s recognizable to shoppers in that geography.
It’s also worth remembering that legislation responds to the industry—both shoppers and brands. As global expectations around corporate sustainability evolve, so will legislation—and we’re already seeing this with China revisiting its rules on animal testing.
Should the clamping down on misleading claims also extend further into the beauty industry to include all brands, not just green/clean ones?
Absolutely. The Green Claims Code applies to all organisations making environmental claims, so it will affect brands for whom sustainability is a core value as well as brands that have made less progress on mitigating their impact to date.
But as I see it, protecting future brand value in the beauty industry depends on establishing and clearly articulating their “green” credentials. According to British Beauty Council research, 88% of consumers want brands to do more to help them make a difference and 86% want information about ingredient supply chains. With this in mind, I think the question to consider is less about whether legislation applies to all brands, and more to do with whether brands will be able to maintain relevance in the absence of an ambitious and clearly communicated sustainability strategy.