The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched a number of investigations into businesses over their environmental claims.
The Commission looked into of 247 businesses and found that more than half made “concerning” claims about environmental or sustainability practices.
According to the Commission, the cosmetic, clothing and footwear, and food and drink sectors had the highest proportion of concerning claims among the industries targeted in the operation.
“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,” said ACCC deputy chair Catriona Lowe.
The ACCC said that businesses using these terms provided little explanation as to what these terms meant and even made unqualified claims about packaging being biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable without explaining how customers can dispose of packaging properly.
It also found that businesses frequently made claims about emissions reduction, offsets, or carbon neutrality without properly explaining how these were calculated or the steps they took to achieve those labels.
“Consumers are now, more than ever, making purchasing decisions on environmental grounds,” continued Lowe.
“Unfortunately, it appears that rather than making legitimate changes to their practices and procedures, some businesses are relying on false or misleading claims. This conduct harms not only consumers but also those businesses taking genuine steps to implement more sustainable practices.”
Businesses were also quick to use vague comparisons in order to sell products. For example, many stated that they used fewer raw materials, or less water or plastic packaging to produce a product. It
was not explained how much fewer resources are used, or what this was being compared to.
Similarly, businesses claimed that products generated less waste compared to conventional alternatives and had a lower environmental impact than products made from other materials without citing evidence to support their claims.
One business omitted crucial information about its sustainability practices such as claiming investments in renewable energy projects while still sourcing most of its products from fossil fuel-based industries. Another claimed that it offset carbon emissions and had a “positive” impact on the environment without taking steps to reduce its overall emissions.
One company claimed that it had taken steps to protect the environment but did not mention that these changes were required by law while also making explicit claims about compliance with other environmental regulations.
Many businesses reportedly claimed affiliation with a variety of third-party certification schemes without describing the nature of the schemes or whether they applied to the entire business, certain product ranges, or individual products.
Greenwashing has become an increasingly fraught topic for businesses, with consumers more aware than ever of environmental claims and often choosing to prioritise buying decisions based on the eco credentials of companies.
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