With increased pressure from regulators and stakeholders, two-thirds of corporate professionals say they are now worried about being accused of “greenwashing” or making exaggerated environmental claims, up from just over half in 2022, according to GlobeScan, an advisory consultancy focused on branding and sustainability.
New regulations, increased awareness of environmental issues and the threat of investor pressure is resulting in a growing number of companies being increasingly cautious in their environmental messaging to avoid reputational damage and legal repercussions from making exaggerated sustainability claims, the group said.
The seafood industry is seeing a growing number of challenges to environmental claims contained on packaging and published on company web sites.
Last week, Germany-based retailer Aldi said it is seeking settlements in two court cases alleging it made false or misleading sustainability claims about the seafood it sells in the more than 2,000 stores it operates in the United States.
In addition, recent class action lawsuits, including some filed by consumers of Conagra-owned Mrs. Paul's and Van de Kamps frozen fish and Bumble Bee's canned tuna alleging they were harmed by the use of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-labeling on their products, could lead to companies needing more than a certification label to market themselves as sustainable.
Environmental messaging is critical to the marketing of seafood, which is the last of the major meat proteins still "hunted." But even the portion of the supply that is farmed is facing challenges to its sustainability credentials.
Last fall, leading US frozen seafood brand Gorton's settled a class action lawsuit alleging the company used deceptive marketing techniques for its farmed tilapia from China.
In the lawsuit, the consumer plaintiffs alleged Gorton's tilapia products are made from fish "industrially farmed using unsustainable practices that are environmentally destructive and inhumane."
In 2021, Mowi, the world's largest salmon farmer, agreed to pay $1.3 million (€1 million) to settle a class action suit filed by a New York-based catering company alleging the company deceptively marketed its Ducktrap brand smoked salmon as "sustainable" and "eco-friendly."
As part of the settlement, for a period of two years Mowi was forbidden from using the terms "sustainably sourced," "all natural" and "naturally smoked salmon from Maine" on any Ducktrap packaging.
Stripping seafood companies of the ability to use legitimate sustainability claims, most of which are backed by third-party eco-labels, threatens one of the pillars of the industry's approach to marketing its products.
Environmental claims on products are growing as the impacts of climate change continue to grow and humans look for ways to reduce their personal contribution to the problem by making better shopping choices.
In May, in the latest example of where things are headed, lawmakers in the European Parliament agreed to support a ban on businesses claiming their products are carbon neutral thanks to offsets such as planting trees to compensate for CO2 emissions. And the US Federal Trade Commission is updating its environmental marketing guidelines.
Whether it is happening in the courtrooms or the political arena, the era of "environmentally friendly" claims is over. The future is one where green claims must be supported by science.
So what's a business to do?
Scrutinize every single environmental claim your company makes on its packaging, website and in any marketing material.
International corporations Vodafone Group and Nestle, for example, have set up panels of experts to verify environmental claims before they appear on products and marketing to avoid greenwashing allegations, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.
It seems like a prudent approach and one seafood executives should consider copying.
One this is for sure: Doing nothing is the wrong strategy.
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