The Norwegian Consumer Agency (Forbrukertilsynet) says it believes Norrøna is ‘breaking the law’ by marketing eco-friendly clothing and has issued a warning to H&M Group against using the same type of environmental claims .
Forbrukertilsynet reports that outdoor clothing company Norrøna based its advertising on the Higg MSI industry tool, which measures the environmental impact of various textiles. The Norwegian Consumer Agency concluded that this tool “is not sufficient as a basis for the environmental claims they have used in marketing”.
Forbrukertilsynet says that while it welcomes moves to make industry more environmentally friendly, it is concerned about the use of the Higg MSI tool to make environmental claims.
He says the tool, developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, gives a standardized measure of the environmental impacts of different types of textiles in apparel manufacturing. However, it only “measures” the environmental impact of different types of textiles until the fabric itself is finished – that is, not the total environmental impact of a finished garment that you buy in store. This “measurement” is based on average figures of the environmental impact of different types of textiles from different regions and countries around the world.
Trond Rønningen, Director of the Norwegian Consumer Agency, says: “When the clothing industry and others use environmental claims in marketing, it is important that the environmental claims are correct. It is a basic principle that marketing should be truthful and give the most balanced and accurate impression of all environmental benefits. Otherwise, consumers risk making purchase choices on the wrong basis.
Forbrukertilsynet alleges that Norrøna used the Higg MSI figures to communicate the environmental benefits of organic cotton T-shirts. But, he says, this marketing gives the impression that because the T-shirt is produced from organic cotton rather than “regular” cotton, the T-shirt has a significantly lower environmental impact. He adds that he “cannot see that Norrøna has evidence for such a claim”.
“We have concluded that the use of Higg MSI in marketing to consumers is misleading in this case, and therefore illegal. We have asked Norrøna to remove or change the marketing of environmental benefits based on the Higg MSI.”
The watchdog also warned the H&M Group about its use or intended use of the Higg MSI to communicate the environmental benefits of its products to consumers.
He says he informed the H&M Group that it would be “easily misleading and banned” if it used Higg MSI as the basis for its environmental claims in marketing.
In addition, he sent a letter to the SAC informing him of his “co-responsibility” if his members use the Higg MSI as the basis for environmental claims in their marketing in an illegal manner.
“In order for SAC to avoid liability, we have encouraged SAC to stipulate that players using Higg MSI are not permitted to use this tool to market environmental benefits to consumers.”
Response to environmental complaints
In an email to Just Style, the SAC said it appreciated the Norwegian Consumer Authority’s sharing of its report and took the findings “extremely seriously”.
“We are reviewing the content of their analysis and will provide our response once it is complete,” he added.
While a Norrøna spokesperson told Just Style: “Our vision is to welcome current and future generations into nature, and our main goal is to provide high quality products with sustainable function and design, realized through a sustainable supply chain and platform. Our work to become 100% sustainable has been ongoing for a number of years, during which we have been a leader in our industry and it is our top priority. Since 2015, we have been as transparent and concrete as possible on our sustainable development objectives through our 2021 roadmap.
“Part of this work is to become more committed to the environment and to help consumers make informed choices that have an impact on the environment. We do not want to mislead consumers in any way. Our aim is to provide as much enlightening information as possible about the products one is considering buying. Data verified by independent third parties is crucial in this context. This is also why we cooperate with Textile Exchange, The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), The Swedish Textile Initiative for Climate Action (STICA) and Fashion for Good, among others.
“We recognize that data on cotton production is not perfect. Although we consider it the best data available at this time. We see no other way to measure sustainability in textiles than to use generalized data. This is particularly the case for “living” materials such as wool, cotton, leather, down. We make it clear in our communications that these data are based on generalized figures for organic cotton production. The environmental footprint information is in no way intended to mislead our consumers.
However, the outdoor equipment retailer said, based on feedback from the Norwegian Consumer Authority, that it is currently reviewing its copy to ensure necessary updates. He will also have an orientation meeting with the watchdog in August as he has “no desire to stray from the border in this important communication”.
“Without the use of facts and data on production methods and materials, it will not be possible for the consumer to obtain sufficient information about a product. It is important for the consumer to know how a product is: made, where the raw materials come from, ideally what chemicals are used on the product, how much energy has been spent on production, water consumption, and at the very least, be aware that manufacturers control the social conditions associated with production in factories. Therefore, we are committed to providing as factual and complete data as possible on our production. This is why we are working with and supporting the financial work of Textile Exchange’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA+) program to better shed light on regional differences across production,” he adds.
A spokesperson for H&M said: “As a member of the SAC, H&M supports the SAC and the journey they have embarked on to develop a unified way for brands, retailers and manufacturers to share impact data. environmental audits related to products and provide customers with greater transparency and the ability to make more informed purchasing decisions. That said, we believe this is a starting point for the industry, not the final destination, but at this point we believe this is the most robust tool available for large-scale industry today.
“The Higg MSI collects available life cycle assessment data sources for materials commonly used in clothing and footwear. MSI data comes from leading global data sources, including Quantis and Sphera. The SAC also regularly invites industry, including fiber specific associations, to submit new data to continuously improve the tool for all decision makers. It is important to remember that the current version of the Transparency Program was launched in 2021 and the data used should be continuously updated as the impact of material changes, as well as new materials and better procurement practices. This is something the SAC continually strives to do and something we support in order to have the most accurate data possible.
In March, the UK Competition and Markets Authority advised the government to clarify the law on providing environmental information to consumers, including having standard definitions for terms such as ‘carbon neutral’, which, will make it easier for buyers to make sustainability choices, she says.