You will find the guidance document here. The guidance document is based on the authorities’ interpretation of current EU law, but is not a legally binding ruling.
In the spring of 2022, the Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA) investigated a Norwegian clothing company’s use of the Higg MSI tool in marketing towards consumers.
Higg MSI is a tool developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) as a part of the Higg Index. The Higg MSI measures certain environmental impacts of materials used in garment production. The SAC allows traders to use the Higg MSI to present information about the environmental impacts of materials used in textiles to consumers.
The NCA found that the Higg MSI data did not constitute sufficient documentation for the claims made by the Norwegian trader in their marketing. The NCA concluded that the trader’s use of Higg MSI data in marketing was misleading, and therefore prohibited under the Norwegian Marketing Control Act, which is based on the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD).
This conclusion could be seen as a warning to other traders operating in the EU/EEA area, as the NCA found that the use of Higg MSI data in marketing towards consumers in general could easily be misleading.
In a letter in June 2022, the NCA informed the Norwegian clothing company that their use of Higg MSI data in marketing was prohibited.
At the same time, the NCA informed a large, international clothing company that using Higg MSI data in marketing towards consumers will easily be considered misleading. The NCA also reminded the SAC that the organization has a responsibility for marketing based on Higg MSI data. Therefore, the SAC should take steps to make sure that traders that have partnered with the SAC comply with the rules of the Norwegian Marketing Control Act and the UCPD.
After receiving the conclusion from the NCA, the SAC temporarily suspended their member’s use of Higg MSI data in marketing. The SAC then contacted the NCA asking for guidance. SAC representatives met with the NCA in Porsgrunn, Norway in August. The SAC also contacted other consumer authorities for guidance. Now, the NCA and the Dutch consumer authority, Authority for Consumer and Markets (ACM) have issued a joint guidance document to the SAC .
The NCA has long had a general guidance on the use of environmental claims in marketing. The SAC did however need more specific guidance in this case.
– It is positive that the textile industry wants to display credible data about the materials used in garments in their marketing to consumers, says Trond Rønningen, director of the Norwegian Consumer Authority.
– However, it is important that any claims about the environmental impact of garments and textiles are correct. Such claims must be substantiated by correct and sufficient data, and not presented in a misleading way, Rønningen says.
Data must be presented correctly
In the investigation of the Norwegian clothing company’s use of Higg MSI data in marketing, the NCA found that the current use of global average data as documentation for product specific claims was problematic. In the guidance document, NCA and ACM state that when such data are presented in marketing, it should be clear from the marketing that the numbers presented are global averages. It must be clear to the consumer that the numbers are not directly related to the production of the specific product.
The two consumer authorities state that the SAC should engage an independent third party to review data sets underlying the Higg MSI, as well as the Higg MSI methodology. The SAC must make sure that global average numbers presented to the consumer are based on representative and updated data.
When Higg MSI data are used in marketing towards consumers, the marketing must clearly inform the consumers that the data only concern specific environmental impact categories. It must be clear to the consumer which possible environmental impacts are not reflected in the numbers presented in the marketing.
From cradle to gate
The Higg MSI numbers are based on a so-called “cradle to gate” assessment. The numbers are meant to show the environmental impacts of a material from the raw materials are grown or made to the fabric is ready for use in a garment. This means the Higg MSI does not measure the environmental impact across the entire life cycle of a material or product (from “cradle to cradle”). This will not be self-explanatory to the average consumer. Therefore, the SAC also needs to make clear to consumers what the measuring of environmental impacts only “cradle to gate” means.
The Higg MSI does not allow traders to compare the environmental impacts of different material types in marketing. The index only allows traders to compare so-called “preferred materials” to their “conventional benchmark”. For example, ecologically grown cotton can be compared to conventional cotton, or recycled polyester to virgin polyester. This should also be made clear to the consumer. Otherwise, consumers could be misled to believe that a comparison of environmental impact across different types of materials has been made.
Important guidance for the entire industry
What started as an investigation of the marketing practices of one outdoor product manufacturer, has now resulted in an important guidance for the entire textile industry. Also, the providers of other industry tools besides the Higg MSI should take note of this guidance. Many companies in the industry use the Higg MSI or similar tools, both when choosing materials for their garments, and as documentation for environmental claims in marketing. Therefore, the guidance document all traders in the industry who wish to include environmental claims in their marketing should read this guidance.
The guidance will also be of use for traders in other industries making environmental claims to consumers, especially when such claims are based on global averages.
– All traders must make sure they keep their marketing within the limits of relevant laws and directives, director Trond Rønningen says.
– Traders must be able to document the claims they present in marketing to consumers. As long as you can substantiate your marketing claims and present your message in a way that is clear, concise and understandable for the average consumer, you should be in the clear.