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Textile industry's labelling scheme is misleading marketing, the Norwegian Consumer Authority rules

Friends of the Earth Norway’s complaint about outdoor clothing and sportswear brand Norrøna's use of the textile industry's own labelling scheme, the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), has been upheld by the Norwegian Consumer Authority, which went as far as characterising the industry's voluntary tools for measuring environmental impact as unreliable. Friends of the Earth Norway hopes today's decision will have international ramifications.

The Norwegian Consumer Authority ruled that Norrøna is breaking the law when they market their clothes as environmentally friendly.

“Our decision to complain to the Consumer Authority has been fully vindicated. Today’s ruling is a huge victory in the fight against greenwashing and for the environment, said Truls Gulowsen, leader of Friends of the Earth Norway.

Ramifications for the textile industry

The Consumer Authority has also expressed doubts about whether the Higg MSI can be used at all in the marketing of specific products. It is highly uncertain whether this certification scheme says anything meaningful about the climate and environmental impact of the product in question, the Authority ruled. Friends of the Earth Norway believes this is a necessary step in clearing up the minefield of ‘green’ certification schemes, which are becoming increasingly difficult to navigate, even for experienced consumers.

“Things have gone too far when the textile industry is allowed to portray itself as environmentally-friendly without critical scrutiny. Green certification schemes should only be carried out by independent third parties,” said Gulowsen.

“The importance of exposing greenwashing is also emphasised through the EU's recently launched textile strategy, which points out that as many as 39 per cent of textile industry claims are misleading or incorrect. The Higg MSI is just one of many such schemes,” Gulowsen added.

Background: False ‘green’ promises

Our shops are full of green promises: sustainable clothes, green production lines, clean materials, and low carbon footprints. Today's decision from the Norwegian Consumer Authority shows that consumers are mostly paying for a clean conscience built on false premises. The industry's voluntary certification schemes are unreliable.

One of the largest certification schemes for textiles internationally is the textile industry's own Higg MSI, which is now being rolled out. Higg MSI is run by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which consists of more than 250 different textile companies, interest groups, and organizations. Among these are the owners of well-known brands such as Zara, H&M and Norrøna. Norrøna is the first company in the world to use the Higg MSI in marketing. Norrøna referred to the index when they claimed that their Viking t-shirt is a more sustainable product than a conventional cotton t-shirt. In its marketing, the company boasts that organic cultivation of cotton uses 87 percent less water than conventional cotton production – a claim that simply cannot be verified.

The Higg MSI uses global average figures when referring to specific products, which is not possible given the data available today. Friends of the Earth Norway reported the case to the Norwegian Consumer Authority in November and Norrøna received a clear answer today: Norrøna's use of the Higg MSI violates the law because the presentation is misleading for consumers. In addition, they have warned H&M against using the same type of marketing. In addition, they described the entire scheme as unreliable, at least when it comes to marketing environmental benefits to consumers.

“The textile industry must be aware that marketing of environmental benefits based on the industry index can easily be considered misleading and illegal marketing,” concluded Trond Rønningen, director of the Norwegian Consumer Authority, on their website.

“For the average consumer, the minefield of ‘ethical’ branding is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that consumers can trust the certification schemes that exist,” said Gulowsen.

The article was last updated on: 17.06.2022

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Colorful garments on racks and on the floor; fast fashion concept klær iStock-1184503974

Textile industry's labelling scheme is misleading marketing, the Norwegian Consumer Authority rules

17.06.2022 | Sist oppdatert: 17.06.2022

Friends of the Earth Norway’s complaint about outdoor clothing and sportswear brand Norrøna's use of the textile industry's own labelling scheme, the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), has been upheld by the Norwegian Consumer Authority, which went as far as characterising the industry's voluntary tools for measuring environmental impact as unreliable. Friends of the Earth Norway hopes today's decision will have international ramifications.