The UK’s fight against Greenwashing. And why the Oatly case presents a conundrum.

In September ’21, the UK’s Competition and Market Authority reiterated that under consumer protection law, companies must not mislead their consumers.

In plain speak: greenwashing is illegal.

And rightly so. The continued focus on polished marketing pitches, pledging unverified net-zero targets distracts from the dire need to redefine what we mean by “business success”.

In this day and age, no company can be successful without accounting for its impact on people and the planet. Financial gains won’t serve you very long, if your clients are burning up. No regular 3–5 year strategy cycle can afford to look the other way (or: to not look up).

In the recent case against Oatly, the company’s ads were banned on the premise of being misleading. This is an interesting — and also an uneasy — conundrum.

Oatly’s ads were misleading becuase their emissions calculations weren’t accurate and they misrepresented data by not putting claims into context.
At the same time, Oatly’s ads tend to be focused on advocacy campaigns that do, in fact, raise awareness — in particular about dietary choices.

Dietary choices are an important vehicle in tackling the climate crisis. No matter how personal and affronting this may feel. Fact is: A vegan diet does produce fewer emissions than a meat-based one, and oat milk comes with a lower environmental impact than dairy.

Sure, you can argue that Oatly put marketing over science. Their ads were misleading to a certain degree.

It doesn’t negate, however, that there are much more significant offenders and that we need more climate-aware advocacy. We need more companies that raise awareness and educate. And we need a new understanding of business success.

As Chris Hartgerink pointed out in a comment to a LinkedIn version of this blog: Targeting climate-aware companies is similar of how privacy-aware companies can become more likely to be found in violation of privacy laws because they attract people who care about the topic and find the right holes.

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Strategy expert, focusing in intersection of technology, human rights, global governance, and sustianability

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Cathleen Berger

Strategy expert, focusing in intersection of technology, human rights, global governance, and sustianability