We have to protect the Hungarian people and increase their consumer awareness regarding the so-called ‘greenwashing’ phenomenon. As to merchants, we still have to offer guidance and information about instruments they can use to support their statements, emphasized Csaba Balázs Rigó at the event organised by the Swedish-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce in Budapest. The president of the Hungarian Competition Authority pointed out: more and more people recognise the importance of protecting our environment, and undertakings obviously try to take advantage of that.
According to the consumer survey of the European Commission, the majority of consumers in the European Union are aware of the environmental impacts of their purchases, and 2/3 of them buy environment-friendly products even if they are more expensive. ‘However, the way I see it, this statistical data of Brussels is true in times of peace only. In times of war and crisis, consumer habits change significantly, and the ratio of people making decisions on the basis of environmental considerations decreases’, pointed out Csaba Balázs Rigó. He said: the purchases of more expensive environment-friendly products drop most in Member States where people have to bear the burden of extremely high utility bills. At the same time, authorities must still be alert, as there are market players who advertise certain products with ‘green’, ‘environment-friendly’ or similar descriptions or labels.
As he said, as environment-friendly products and services would become more and more popular in the long term, corporate marketing also turns into that direction, even if their statements are not true in every respect, or the facts are correct, but misleading for the consumers. ‘The requirements of the GVH against these statements are exactly the same as against other advertisement messages: they must be correct, precise and controllable’, pointed out Csaba Balázs Rigó. ‘We are fairly consistent in enforcing these criteria, as sustainability statements will help consumers in their choices only if the statements are clear and free of any misleading information. Misleading, meaningless or unclear statements damage consumers’ trust in the statement and in general in sustainability’, underlined the president of the GVH.
Csaba Balázs Rigó recalled the following: In 2016, the GVH already drew attention to the phenomenon of ‘greenwashing’, and at the end of 2021 we took part in the joint examination of the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) network of the European Commission and the Member State authorities, examining green statements in advertisements in the on-line space. In the course of the coordinated investigation, the authorities checked altogether 344 on-line sold products and services in various sectors (e.g. textile products, cosmetics, household machines) to assess their reliability and clarity. Based on the results, the majority of advertisements did not offer easy-to-access evidence to support the published statements. More than one third of the advertisements were misleading when suggesting that the activities of the company had no negative impacts on the environment, only positive impacts. The investigation detected seven advertisements that falsely used environmental certificates. All in all, almost half of the advertisements were untrue or misleading, said the president of the GVH in his presentation.
Csaba Balázs Rigó also pointed out that the GVH published a guide in December 2020 with the intention of offering help to define the considerations that ubdertakings should consider when planning and publishing their commercial communication, so that they could avoid the violation of the law. ‘The primary objective of our guidance was to assist businesses with proper advertising practices related to sustainability. For example, businesses may get detailed information about the legal conditions of calling a product recyclable, recycled, organic, ‘bio’ or degradable. The guide contains a self-check list, too, which supports companies in their proper communication’, explained Csaba Balázs Rigó, then finished his presentation by saying the following: ‘Competition authorities have to get things right in the market, and instead of over-mistifying green considerations, they should continue working hard to make sure that consumers get adequate and exact information on the characteristics and the sustainability of the products. This is how the GVH acts, too.’
Press Office of the GVH