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Oatly sparks controversy for greenwashing again

The dairy milk alternative brand Oatly has made overstated claims about its environmental impact through advertising.

It’s hard to believe that oat milk could piss so many people off, but Swedish brand Oatly has found itself at the centre of much controversy over the years.

The dairy milk alternative has already come under fire for contributing to deforestation in the Amazon, having a high sugar content while advertising itself as a healthy drink, and for selling company stakes to Blackstone, a private equity firm chaired by Donald Trump.

Oatly is also known for it’s highly obnoxious marketing style, which can be painful to read and yet impossible to ignore. Slapped onto bus stops, framed in the Underground, and even painted on blank walls or pasted to park benches, the bold text and overbearing messaging style tends to come across like a hyper 12-year-old after too much Pick N Mix.

Needless to say, it’s irritating – but it seems like that’s Oatly’s strategy.

In recent days, Oatly has been criticised for pushing their latest marketing claim which states: ‘climate experts say cutting dairy and meat products from our diets is the single biggest lifestyle change we can make to reduce our environmental impact.’

While there is a large element of truth to the above statement, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have said that Oatly only consulted a single climate expert before including it in their campaign. And even the expert himself didn’t sound so convinced, adding ‘probably’ to the end of his official statement.

In their latest television advertisement, Oatly states that their company ‘generates 73 per cent less CO2 vs milk, calculated from grower to grocer.’ However, this statistic isn’t based on peer-reviewed evidence and doesn’t apply to the brand’s entire range.

The figure is only true when one of Oatly’s products – the barista edition oat milk – is compared to full fat cow’s milk. The rest of its line has not been studied in comparison.

The ASA received 109 complaints about Oatly’s claims primarily from livestock farming companies who said that while competition is normal, honesty and facts should come first and foremost.

Naturally, other people heard the news and took to social media to expose the truth about the new campaigns, to which Oatly spokesperson Tim Knight said, ‘it’s clear that we could have been more specific in the way we described some of the scientific data.’

Knight continued, ‘we’re a science-based company and take pride in being precise, but we could have been clearer. We talk about these things a lot, because we want to make it easy for people to make an informed switch from dairy to oat drink.’

Of course, many studies have confirmed that adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet will drastically reduce your individual carbon footprint each year. Plus, oat milk is so delicious – the thought of having ‘real’ milk in my coffee actually makes my stomach churn.

But Oatly needs to be careful with its marketing schemes in the future, to ensure that its research and marketing claims are well supported, so that it doesn’t end up in hot water again (or so it does, ha).

As brand honesty and sustainable practices are high up on Gen-Z’s list of consumer demands, winning us over through stretched truths is a bad move.

Oatly has already made enough dodgy moves with its investors and ingredients sourcing. And greenwashing isn’t anybody’s cup of tea.