Beyond the Badge

Go ‘beyond the badge’ to challenge labels and claims and find out the true standards behind them

Confused by all the “greenwash” in the marketplace? Don’t know which brands to trust when it comes to ethical claims?

Sustainability issues are starting to play an increasingly central role in consumers’ mind-sets around the world – a recent Unilever study of 20,000 adults from five countries found that more than a third of consumers now choose to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.

There are many ‘labels’  used by brands to entice consumers (e.g. organic, fairtrade, eco-friendly), but how many of us actually understand what lies behind these claims (if anything!)??

Corporate scandals, such as when Volkswagen admitted to fitting cars with software designed to give false readings in emissions tests, prove that greenwashing is an increasingly common tactic used by big brands to cover up their potentially harmful impact on people and planet.

For a multinational giant, once considered a leader in sustainability, to be publicly shown up to be deliberately deceiving consumers, serves as a reminder of the need to look ‘beyond the badge’ and find out exactly what lies behind green/ethical claims.

We are calling on consumers to question the validity of claims and labels/badges used by brands, and to look ‘beyond the badge’ to find out what they actually mean.

How can I get involved?

Our aim is to get you as consumers thinking about the labels and badges that are used by brands you buy from, and to encourage you to challenge the claims made, to find out more what these actually mean and the standards that uphold them (if any!)

Here are some ways you can get involved in the campaign:

  • See our top tips for what to look out for when questioning labels
  • Read our manifesto and pledge your support to the campaign
  • Join our Thunderclap to create a buzz of conversation about the campaign
  • Share your pledge on social media, using the hashtag #GoBeyondTheBadge
  • Keep an eye out for greenwashing, and share examples on social media using the campaign hashtag. Alternatively, please email to us

Greenwash is the corporate practice of using PR and marketing claims to mislead customers into thinking a company and its products are ethical/environmentally friendly

How can I identify genuine labels?

With all the talk of sustainability and ethics that abound in consumer markets, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin when trying to work out what labels and badges actually mean.

We have put together these useful tips to help you question the validity of different labels and claims, and to identify those that actually mean something.

Tip 1 - Do your research

Look further into the claims that are made to fully understand what the organisation is doing to live up to these claims. Can they substantiate the claims they make, is there any proof? Check brand websites for validation of these claims, and any carefully worded ‘get-out clauses’.

For example, in 2015, animal rights organisation PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) revealed that several cosmetic giants, including L’Oreal, who claim not to test on animals ‘anywhere in the world’, actually pay for animal testing to be conducted in Chinese laboratories, where there is a requirement for goods to be submitted for testing before being sold in China. L’Oreal use the following proviso in their claim to get around this – ‘An exception could be made if regulatory authorities required it for safety or regulatory purposes’.

Tip 2 - Beware of greenwashing

Keep an eye out for greenwashing – where companies make bold claims about their sustainability, which are actually just a clever marketing tactic – be sure that you are properly informed and check for proof of such claims.

A recent high-profile example is Costa Coffee, which claimed its single use takeaway coffee cups are 100% recyclable. This claim was challenged by TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his ‘War on Waste’ campaign in 2016, where he accused Costa of deliberately misleading consumers with these claims. Figures from recycling specialists Simply Cups – which recycles cups received from the likes of Costa – show that the firm handles approximately six million cups a year, which equates to just less than 1% of the cups thrown away by the public actually being recycled.

Tip 3 - Look out for third party endorsements

Look for a symbol of certification/accreditation, that has been independently assessed and awarded by a third party.

Something to be aware of is self-certification, whereby an organisation has simply indicated that they conform to a set of standards/criteria. Often no external or independent assessment has taken place to confirm this and provide credibility to the certification they display. It is helpful to look more into any badges/labels to find out exactly what has been assessed (if anything.)

For example, the Soil Association organic symbol demonstrates that a product has met its strict organic standards. It is the most widely recognised organic symbol in the UK and appears on over 70% of all organic products.

When you see the organic symbol you can be sure what you buy has been produced to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards. It means fewer pesticides and chemicals, no artificial additives or preservatives and absolutely no GM.

Tip 4 - Look for proof

Where a claim is made, check for proof and validation, ideally from an independent third party. If the proof exists, then a brand should be happy to make this information openly accessible.

For example, if a brand claims a product contains recycled content, then supporting evidence or third party certification (e.g. FSC) should be easy to find on their products or website.

Again, be aware of self-certification, whereby an organisation has simply indicated that they conform to a set of standards/criteria, and no external assessment has taken place to confirm this and provide credibility to the certification they display.

Question any claims that are not backed up with evidence.

Tip 5 - Go beyond the badge

Take a bit of time to look ‘beyond the badge’ to understand what the badges and labels that are displayed by brands actually mean. What standards (if any) has that company met in order to display that badge?

For example, organisations displaying the Social Enterprise Mark have been externally assessed against robust sector-agreed criteria, to prove that they operate with a primary aim of creating benefits for people and planet, which takes precedent over creating value for shareholders. They are re-assessed each year to ensure they continue to meet the criteria.

The Social Enterprise Mark is an independently assessed guarantee of a company’s commitment to trading for the benefit of people and planet. It provides reassurance to consumers that a company is living up to its social and environmental claims.

Campaign partners

We are proud to be working with a number of partners on this campaign, to share the message with a wider audience, and to engage consumers across multiple sectors. Each of the partners is responsible for a standard or ‘Mark’ that independently assesses an organisation against a set of criteria.

You can find out more below about the different ‘badges’ of the campaign partners, and what they stand for.

The Ethical Consumer Best Buy Label is the definitive endorsement for people looking to put principles at the top of their shopping list. It identifies companies who consider ethics throughout their entire operation and gives shoppers the assurance they are looking for.

GEO Certified® is a suite of credible standard and certification marks, which recognise a golf facility, development or tournament which has shown commitment to sustainability. The standards are assessed by an independent verifier, upholding the highest codes of good practice.

The Living Wage Mark is the badge of a responsible employer. It means an employer commits to paying all staff, including outsourced or contracted ones, a real Living Wage, that is annually calculated to reflect the cost of living.

When you see the organic symbol you can be sure what you buy has been produced to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards. It means fewer pesticides and chemicals, no artificial additives or preservatives and absolutely no GM.

TrustMark is the only Government-endorsed ‘find a tradesperson’ scheme, providing consumer protection when hiring a tradesperson. It raises industry standards and eradicates the practices of rogue traders, through stringent criteria that Registered Firms must commit to.