Bottles of Dove body wash, produced by Unilever Plc, at an Iceland Foods Ltd. supermarket in Christchurch, UK, on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. "Britain's cost-of-living crisis -- on track to big the biggest squeeze since the mid-70s -- will continue to worsen before it starts to ease at some point next year," said Jack Leslie, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, a research group campaigning against poverty. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
London CNN  — 

The maker of Dove soap and Cif floor cleaner is being investigated by the UK antitrust regulator over concerns that it is “misleading” shoppers about how environmentally friendly its products are.

An “initial review” into Unilever’s marketing tactics “uncovered a range of concerning practices,” the Competition and Markets Authority said in a statement Tuesday, as it announced a formal probe into the consumer goods giant.

The investigation is the latest evidence of efforts by regulators to crack down on “greenwashing,” which refers to advertising that misleads consumers about a product’s true impact on the environment. European Union lawmakers look set to agree new rules in January that will ban phrases such as “biodegradable,” “eco” and “environmentally friendly” where these are not backed up by proof.

The CMA said it was “concerned that Unilever may be overstating how green certain products are through the use of vague and broad claims, unclear statements around recyclability, and ‘natural’-looking images and logos.”

Its probe is part of a wider review by the UK regulator into greenwashing by firms, expanded in January to include consumer goods companies that make “essential” items, such as food, drink, cleaning products and toiletries. Unilever is the first consumer goods company to be formally investigated since January.

The company — which is also the world’s largest ice-cream maker and owns brands such as Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s — has long prided itself on its sustainability credentials. In 2020, it unveiled plans to make all its products biodegradable by the end of the current decade and to disclose the amount of carbon pollution emitted to produce them.

CMA chief executive Sarah Cardell said Tuesday: “More and more people are trying to do their bit to help protect the environment, but we’re worried many are being misled by so-called ‘green’ products that aren’t what they seem.”

According to the CMA, Unilever’s claims about some ingredients may exaggerate how natural the product is, while use of imagery such as green leaves creates an impression that some products “are more environmentally friendly than they actually are.”

Claims about the recyclability of certain products “may be unclear, as they fail to specify whether they relate to all or part of a product or packaging,” the CMA added.

Unilever said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the investigation but would cooperate with the CMA. “We… refute that our claims are in any way misleading,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

“Unilever is committed to making responsible claims about the benefits of our products on our packs and to these being transparent and clear,” the spokesperson added, noting that Unilever’s products contain information about how to dispose of the packaging after use.

The CMA did not indicate when it expected to conclude the investigation. “Possible outcomes include securing undertakings from Unilever that commit the firm to change the way it operates; taking the company to court; or closing the case without further action,” it said.

This story has been updated with additional information.