25 May 2021Jurisdiction reportsMichiel Rijsdijk

Netherlands jurisdiction report: Sustainability with substance

Consumers increasingly want to contribute to a world that remains sustainable in the foreseeable future, and are more interested in the sustainability impact of products and services they purchase. However, claims about sustainability are often seen as unreliable by consumers. Companies must be honest about sustainability and should ensure their claims are clear, correct, and relevant.

To battle unfounded sustainability claims, the ACM has provided five rules for advertising around sustainability claims.

1: Make clear what sustainability benefit the product offers

Sustainability claims are of use to consumers only if they are clearly phrased and easy to understand. When phrasing your claims, you will need to be specific about your product’s sustainability benefit so that no confusion will arise among consumers. You cannot wrongfully give the impression that a product is more sustainable than it really is.

2: Substantiate your claims with facts, and keep them up to date

You will have to be able to prove that your sustainability claims are true. You need to check regularly whether your claims still hold up, and revise them if necessary, so that consumers can rely on the fact that the information is up to date.

3: Comparisons with other products, services, or companies must be fair

You need to make sure that comparisons with other products or companies will not lead to any misunderstandings among consumers about the sustainability aspects of your company or products.

“Any claim about your company’s sustainability ambitions must be proportional to your actual sustainability efforts.” - Michiel Rijsdijk

4: Be honest and specific about your company’s efforts

You will need to distinguish between general information about your company’s efforts regarding sustainability, and specific information about the benefits of an individual product. Information about concrete initiatives or plans that your company has for promoting sustainability are more useful to consumers than vague or unclear statements about your company’s commitment and core values.

Any claim about your company’s sustainability ambitions must be proportional to your actual sustainability efforts. You can make a claim about your future goals for marketing purposes only if there is a clear, concrete, and verifiable strategy to realise those aims.

5: Visual claims and labels must be useful, and not confusing

Only clear symbols, images, or labels, which do not create a false impression or confuse consumers, are allowed. Furthermore, only officially certified labels or symbols may be used to support sustainability claims. It must be clear what a label stands for, and which requirements a product has met to obtain the label, so that the consumer can make an educated choice.

It is advisable to check whether there are certified labels for the relevant product group. If you are using a non-certified sustainability programme you have developed yourself, you must inform the consumer.

Now that sustainability is becoming increasingly important to consumers worldwide, the ACM guidelines are a welcome development, and will help bring some structure to sustainability-related advertising. They protect consumers against misleading advertising, and they also provide advertisers with specific guidelines.

Michiel Rijsdijk is a partner at Arnold & Siedsma. He can be contacted at:

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