The competition watchdog is to investigate boiler brand Worcester Bosch over whether it misled shoppers with confusing or inaccurate green claims.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the investigation will focus on whether marketing claims for the firm’s so-called “hydrogen-blend ready” home boilers, which cost between £1,500 and £3,200, may mislead consumers into thinking they are more environmentally friendly than they are.
Marketing claims that the boilers could run on a blend of 20% hydrogen and natural gas may have given the impression that this was a special feature, despite all boilers in the UK being legally required to operate this way since the mid-1990s, the watchdog said.
It will also look at information given by Worcester Bosch about the use of hydrogen for home heating in the UK, which is not currently available and its introduction potentially years away and dependent on future government decisions.
Descriptions and information about the environmental benefits of “hydrogen-blend ready” boilers may also falsely suggest that these boilers would reduce a household’s carbon footprint, the CMA said.
This investigation is part of wider work by the CMA into consumer protection in the green heating and insulation sector.
The watchdog published a report earlier this year which highlighted concerns that a number of businesses were making potentially misleading claims online about hydrogen use in boilers and put the sector on notice for further action.
It has also written to 12 other businesses that sell “hydrogen-blend” boilers after reviewing their marketing, to warn them that they could be breaching consumer protection law and to remind them of their legal obligations.
George Lusty, senior director for consumer protection at the CMA, said: “Businesses need to be clear about the environmental credentials of the products they’re selling. This is especially important for heating products like home boilers, which are an expensive and long-term purchase.
“We set out our concerns earlier this year about businesses marketing boilers as ‘hydrogen-blend’. We’ll now be scrutinising green claims from Worcester Bosch to see if they mislead shoppers.
“In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep a close eye on practices in the sector.”
Worcester Bosch said: “We are in receipt of notice of investigation from the CMA and are assisting them in full with provision of information as requested.”
Analysts were quick to criticise Worcester Bosch, accusing it of falling into the trap of so-called ‘greenwashing.’
Kate Gee, partner and greenwashing lawyer at law firm Signature Litigation: “The CMA’s investigation will focus on Worcester Bosch’s so-called ‘hydrogen-blend ready’ home boilers, and assess whether Bosch’s marketing materials overstate the boilers’ environmental credentials and mislead potential purchasers.
The investigation highlights the need for companies to keep their ESG obligations front and centre in board-level decisions, policymaking and implementation at every level of the organisation. Companies must ensure that their products, product information and marketing materials do not give confusing, misleading or inaccurate information about environmental credentials and can – if pressed – withstand regulatory scrutiny.
The incentive to greenwash stems from increased consumer demand for sustainable products and commercial activities. At the same time, there is increasing regulatory and industry pressure to provide environmentally responsible products and services, as evidenced by developing environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) frameworks.
This has resulted in greater scrutiny and high-profile court proceedings relating to greenwashing and other ESG issues, brought by affected customers, by regulatory bodies or by activist groups.”