No marketing claims without LCA

Cases of greenwashing or misuse of terms, such as ‘sustainable’, have led to bad press for many companies. And in Denmark, such cases also lead to sizable fines. Just before the turn of the year, the Danish consumer Ombudsman released a collection of examples of court decisions as part of a new ‘quick guide’ to companies on how to deal with environmental marketing (Quick guide in Danish).

The many court rulings point to an increasing firmness against ill-founded environmental claims.

The quick guide states (in our translation) that: ’documentation for sustainability claims must be based on a life cycle analysis that shows that the company does not impair the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Health, social and ethical issues must also be considered. It is therefore very difficult to call a product etc. sustainable without being misleading.’

Worth mentioning is also the statement that any claim must be documented and substantiated by independent experts and that ‘convenient’ omissions will not be tolerated. Furthermore CO2-reduction claims are only allowed if the company has a reduction plan in place. Overall, we find there is much sound advice for companies in the new guideline.

As consultants we sometimes get a glimpse of the huge internal pressures from ‘the marketing department’ which ultimately may lead to various green claims despite expert advice. The European Commission in early 2021 commissioned a screening of websites for ‘greenwashing’ and found that half of green claims lack evidence. We hope that these collections of examples can be a good support for those who need arguments to stand the ground against the temptation of simplified ‘green’ claims, also at the international level. LCA is the best tool to provide actual evidence for any environmental or sustainability claim on products, especially if the LCA is done properly, accounting for the entire lifecycle of a product, without flawed system boundaries or inconsistent data sources.