Come Clean on Green: ACCC cracks down on Greenwashing

Crackdown on ecolabels, as consumers make decisions on environmental grounds.

Fri 03 Mar 23


Australia’s consumer watchdog is investigating a number of businesses for potential ‘greenwashing’ following an internet sweep.

The ACCC found more than half of the businesses reviewed made concerning claims about their environmental or sustainability practices.

Of the 247 businesses reviewed, 57% were identified as having made concerning claims about their environmental credentials.

The cosmetic, clothing and footwear and food and drink sectors were found to have the highest proportion of concerning claims among the industries targeted in the operation. Other sectors examined also had a significant proportion of concerning claims.

Footage courtesy of @BehindtheNewsABC

“Our sweep indicates a significant proportion of businesses are making vague or unclear environmental claims,” ACCC deputy chair Catriona Lowe said.

“This warrants further scrutiny,” she said.

“Consumers are now, more than ever, making purchasing decisions on environmental grounds. Unfortunately, it appears that rather than making legitimate changes to their practices and procedures, some businesses are relying on false or misleading claims.:

Ms Lowe said this conduct harmed not only consumers, but also those businesses taking genuine steps to implement more sustainable practices.

Businesses using broad claims like ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘green’, or ‘sustainable’ are obliged to back up these claims through reliable scientific reports, transparent supply chain information, reputable third-party certification or other forms of evidence.

“Where we have concerns, we will be asking businesses to substantiate their claims,” Ms Lowe said.

Catriona Lowe…  internet sweep indicates a significant proportion of businesses are making vague or unclear environmental claims.

“Already, we have several active investigations under way across the packaging, consumer goods, food manufacturing and medical devices sectors for alleged misleading environmental claims and these may grow, as we continue to conduct more targeted assessments into businesses and claims identified through the sweep.

“We will take enforcement action where it is appropriate to do so as it is critical that consumer trust in green claims is not undermined.”

The ACCC will also conduct a range of education activities with businesses, including updating economy-wide guidance material, in addition to targeted guidance for specific sectors.

“The sweep has helped inform our forthcoming guidance about what steps businesses need to take to improve the integrity of their environmental claims,” Ms Lowe said.

Increasingly environmentally aware consumers expect that timber and paper based products carry FSC or PEFC certification.

“We want to see businesses taking steps to ensure that environmental claims are accurate as well as meaningful for consumers.

“Our sweep has shown that claims are most useful where they are relevant, clear, reliable and transparent. We will engage directly with businesses and industry associations to improve compliance with the Australian Consumer Law.

“Importantly, we encourage businesses to come forward if they become aware they have made false or misleading marketing claims. Businesses who cooperate and advise of any issues with their operations will be considered more favourably than those who wait for the ACCC to unearth these problems.”

Sustainable Choice, a program that helps businesses make informed and sustainable choices by providing them with environmental certification, welcomed the crackdown and provided a number of recommendations to improve the transparency of claims.

In a recent Forbes Australia interview Sustainable Choice CEO Kiarne Treacy told the ACCC to get tough with greenwashing.

“We are calling on the world’s brands to publish their environmental credentials and their sustainability roadmap, initiatives and impact publicly for all people to access and understand.”

Sustainable Choice CEO Kiarne Treacy is leading the charge for the ACCC to do more on greenwashing.

Launched in 2021 the Sustainable Choice platform aligns with the ACCC guidelines.

To date, ForestOne, Responsible Wood, PEFC, Porta, FSC, the Rainforest Alliance, Greenpeace, the Australian Furniture Association and the WWF have joined a growing number of businesses onboarded to the platform.

The ACCC encourages consumers and businesses to contact the ACCC to report any potentially misleading environmental or sustainability claims.

Report through the ACCC website or by contacting the ACCC Infocentre on 1300 302 502.

To join Sustainable Choice as a business or a user please visit the Sustainable Choice website.



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