24 November 2023

On 16 November 2023, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (“CCCS”) issued advice to suppliers on the making of environmental claims on e-commerce websites, following the publication of a report from a CCCS-funded study which found the use of vague environmental claims and confusing technical jargon on such websites.

CCCS awarded a grant to researchers from the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore Business School in March 2022 to look into greenwashing on e-commerce websites in Singapore. “Greenwashing” generally refers to a supplier’s conduct that deceives or misleads consumers into believing that the supplier’s practices or goods and services are more environmentally positive or have greater environmental benefits than is indeed the case.

Of the online product claims surveyed, 51% were found to be vague with insufficient elaboration or details to support the claims, while 14% were found to use technical language that made it difficult for consumers to understand or verify the claims.

Vague environmental claims

CCCS notes that environmental claims (e.g. “environmentally friendly”, “eco-friendly”, “green”, “sustainable”, “good for the Earth”, “natural”, “conscious” and “responsible”) are vague and prone to overstatement or exaggeration as to the actual environmental benefits of the product.

For example, a claim from a supplier that its product is “environmentally friendly” on the basis that the product is made of 10% recycled material may be misleading if it is marketed to give consumers the impression that the product was made of 100% recycled material.

In making environmental claims, CCCS advises suppliers to:

  • be specific in their environmental claims, presenting any qualifying or supporting information accurately and clearly alongside such claims;
  • avoid making claims that would imply or convey an overall impression that the environmental benefit of the product is more than it is (e.g. degree of recycled material used); and
  • ensure that all environmental claims can be substantiated with valid and credible evidence.

Use of technical jargon

CCCS notes that claims containing technical jargon (e.g. “made of high-quality ABS eco-friendly material”) may confuse or mislead consumers on the environmental benefit of the suppliers’ goods, services or businesses.

In this regard, CCCS advises suppliers, when making environmental claims, to:

  • use language that is easier for consumers to understand; and
  • explain the meaning or implications of technical terms.

New guidelines to address greenwashing conduct

To address these and other potential greenwashing conduct by suppliers identified in the study, CCCS announced that it is developing a set of guidelines to provide greater clarity to suppliers on the environmental claims that could amount to unfair practices under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act 2003. CCCS says that views from the public will be sought on the guidelines in due course.

Reference materials

The media release is available on the CCCS website www.cccs.gov.sg.

The following materials are available on the National University of Singapore website www.nus.edu.sg: