Consumers can no longer see the woods because of all the sustainability marks, labels and claims. And that while reliable information about the sustainability of products is highly desirable. “Consumers also receive too little information to offer guidance,” says Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh of market watchdog ACM. In addition, companies are caught giving misleading information.
That is why ACM is investigating false sustainability claims for clothing, energy and dairy products. In the clothing and energy sector, follow-up investigations are now underway into a total of four companies. In addition, in the investigation into the clothing industry, four enforcement requests were sent to fellow regulators abroad. ACM will share the information from the investigation into dairy sustainability claims with the food watchdog NVWA.
The ACM conducted its research because the organization wanted to know more about the level of knowledge and the use of sustainability labels among consumers. It appears that this group expects a steering role from the legislator, such as through certification of quality marks. Recent European proposals will come in handy here, because they are specifically aimed at helping consumers to make sustainable choices. Europe is also committed to stricter rules. For example, only labels that are based on independent certification by the government or a third independent party may be used.
Hijmans van den Bergh of ACM says that consumers are looking for something to hold on to. “Sustainability labels can help consumers make sustainable choices, but then the information must be verifiable, comparable and clear.” The driver says this is not the case now. “It is up to the legislator to set clear rules for quality marks.”
In view of the Climate Agreement and the sustainable goals to be achieved worldwide by 2050, consumers and companies increasingly have to make sustainable choices. It appears that in their communications to consumers, companies like to communicate how they contribute to a (more) sustainable world. But it also appears that consumer knowledge about sustainability labels is remarkably low.
Although some quality marks are known, it is often unclear what they stand for, who issues them and who controls what. For example, only a quarter of consumers would trust sustainability labels. Consumers do, however, need information about the quality marks. In addition to quality marks, companies also make many other sustainability claims, without it being clear whether there is sufficient substantiation for this.