Companies / Aziende,  Fashion/Moda

H&M and Norrøna: the Norwegian authority’s warning for misleading marketing risk

H&M and Norrøna received a warning from the Norwegian Consumer Authority (CA), an independent administrative body tasked with overseeing the market to enforce buyer protection laws.

On June 16, the CA sent a letter to Norrøna, H&M and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (supplier of the Higg Material Sustainability Index – MSI) to point out that the environmental benefits declared in marketing campaigns and linked to the Higg index must be true and not exaggerated.

The textile industry must be aware that the commercialization of environmental benefits, which is based on the sector MS index, can easily be considered misleading and illegal. When the apparel industry and other industries use environmental claims in marketing, it is important that the claims are correct. It is a basic principle that marketing must be truthful and give a more balanced and accurate impression of any environmental benefits. Otherwise, consumers risk making poor purchasing choices.

Trond Rønningen, Director of the Norwegian Consumer Authority

In order not to be considered misleading and therefore prohibited, marketing must be supported by documentation demonstrating the claimed environmental benefits. “Many consumers experience that there are environmental claims for products and services ‘everywhere’. At the same time, consumers themselves have a limited opportunity to verify whether or not those claims are correct. So it is important for the Norwegian Consumer Agency to verify these claims, so that consumers can be as confident as possible that they rely on environmental claims in marketing and make the right choices accordingly, ”Rønningen explains on the CA website.

Norrøna

Norrøna used data from the Higg MS Index to communicate the environmental benefits of organic cotton t-shirts. The promotional message gives the impression that since the t-shirt is made from organic cotton rather than “ordinary” cotton, the t-shirt has a significantly lower environmental impact. The Norwegian Consumer Agency cannot find that Norrøna has evidence for this claim.

The reason is primarily that the Higg MS Index does not document the environmental properties of a specific product. “The only thing the Higg MS Index says is the average environmental impact of a particular material. This average does not necessarily apply to the exact product being marketed with environmental benefits,” says Rønningen.

For cotton, for example, the actual environmental impact will vary depending on the country where the organic cotton of the product in question is grown. Furthermore, the Norwegian Consumer Agency pointed out that the research data on which the Higg MS Index is based are partly outdated and unsuitable for comparisons. For this reason its use in communication to consumers is considered misleading and therefore, in Norway, illegal. The CA therefore asked Norrøna to remove or modify the commercialization of environmental benefits based on the Higg MS index.

We do not want in any way to mislead consumers, but on the contrary to ensure the best possible information on the products that can be purchased“, is the response of Norrøna’s marketing director, Martin Lien, in an email to NRK. The Norwegian brand acknowledges that the information on cotton production is not perfect, based on generalized figures, but according to them it is the best data available at the moment. However, the communication will change following the CA’s recall.

The warning to H&M

H&M has also adopted and plans to use data from the Higg MS Index to communicate the environmental benefits of its products to consumers. The warning from the CA reached the Swedish giant, giving time until 1 September 2022 to adapt the commercial communication.

H&M had already been taken up by the Norwegian Authority in 2019. The use of the term “sustainable” in the promotion of the Conscious collection, without sufficient data to demonstrate, triggered the intervention of the CA to avoid greenwashing.

The Higg MS index

It is a tool developed by the textile industry, by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, to provide a standardized measurement of the environmental impacts of different types of fabrics in apparel manufacturing.

According to the CA, the index “measures” only the environmental impact of fabrics up to the production of the fabric itself, therefore not the entire environmental impact of a finished garment that we buy in the store. The “measurement” is based on average data for the environmental impact of the various types of fabrics that have been purchased from different regions and countries around the world.

The letter sent by the Norwegian Authority urges SAC to avoid using the tool for commercial communication of environmental benefits for consumers.

More marketing surveillance

It is not the first time that the CA has intervened to stop greenwashing. Also in other countries it is desirable to have such a diligent control system increasingly active, in defense of consumers who have neither the way nor the technical knowledge to independently verify the veracity of the claims on the environmental impact of the products.

There are more and more indices, rankings and certifications in the field of sustainability, cited by companies in marketing campaigns to promote their products as “green”. We need evidence to support the claims made by producers, and authorities to supervise the use of greenwashing. It is the road to sustainability that is not a facade, but applied with professionalism by companies, to truly contribute to the fight against climate change rather than to profit growth.

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