Unilever, the multinational company known for producing popular brands such as Dove and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, is under investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) due to concerns that its environmental claims may be misleading consumers.

The CMA has expressed worries that Unilever might be exaggerating the eco-friendliness of certain products, sparking a broader investigation into green claims across various industries.

The consumer giant, which also manufactures well-known products like Cif and Lynx, expressed surprise and disappointment at the investigation’s announcement.

Unilever vehemently refuted the allegations, asserting that its claims were transparent and not misleading in any way.

However, the CMA argued that some of Unilever’s statements and the language used on certain products appeared vague and broad, potentially leading consumers astray.

Of particular concern to the watchdog was the use of colors and imagery, such as green leaves, which they believed could create an impression of heightened environmental friendliness.

The watchdog specifically pointed out instances of what is known as “corporate greenwashing,” where product ingredients are presented in a way that exaggerates their natural qualities.

This practice, according to the CMA, could contribute to the misperception of the products’ overall environmental impact.

Sarah Cardwell, head of the CMA, expressed concern about consumers being misled by seemingly ‘green’ products and emphasized the importance of clarity in environmental claims.

“More and more people are trying to do their bit to help protect the environment, but we’re worried many are being misled by so-called ‘green’ products that aren’t what they seem,” Cardwell said.

The investigation into Unilever is part of a broader effort by the CMA to scrutinize green claims in advertising across various sectors, including toiletries, cleaning products, food, and beverages.

According to the CMA, consumers spent over £130 billion on household essentials last year, with a significant portion marketed as environmentally friendly.

This includes up to 91% of dishwashing items and 100% of toilet products, highlighting the prevalence of ‘green’ marketing.

Unilever responded to the investigation with a commitment to responsible claims and transparency. A company spokesperson stated, “We will continue to cooperate with the CMA and fully comply with further requests for information.

“The company’s assertion aligns with the increasing scrutiny by regulatory bodies and consumers on corporate claims related to sustainability and environmental impact.

In addition to the CMA, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been actively addressing concerns related to ‘greenwashing.

‘In December, the ASA banned advertisements for airlines, including Air France, Lufthansa, and Etihad, for allegedly misleading consumers about the environmental impact of their services.

As regulatory bodies intensify their focus on environmental claims, companies are under increasing pressure to ensure that their marketing accurately reflects the true environmental impact of their products and services.

This scrutiny is expected to contribute to a more transparent landscape where consumers can make informed choices based on authentic and verifiable information regarding a product’s environmental credentials.

Last Updated: 13 December 2023