The ACCC conducted an internet sweep to identify misleading environmental and sustainability marketing claims late last year and has released the findings in a report this week.
According to the ACCC, the consumer watchdog for Australian business, it found that 57 percent of businesses investigated in its greenwashing sweep were identified as having made concerning claims about their environmental credentials.
In October last year, ACCC, sweepers reviewed 247 company websites across a range of eight targeted sectors including energy, vehicles, household products and appliances, food and drink packaging, cosmetics, clothing and footwear industries. The aim of the sweep was to identify industries or sectors which commonly use environmental and sustainability claims, and to assess whether these claims have the potential to mislead consumers.
“Our sweep indicates a significant proportion of businesses are making vague or unclear environmental claims. This warrants further scrutiny,” ACCC Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe 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. This conduct harms not only consumers, but also those businesses taking genuine steps to implement more sustainable practices.”
The most common issue identified in the sweep was the high proportion of vague and unqualified claims. Many businesses used vague terms like ‘green’, ‘kind to the planet’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘responsible’ or ‘sustainable’ to describe their products. According to the ACCC, “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 Ms Lowe.
The investigation also found a lack of substantiating information, or even just absolute false claims.
“Where we have concerns, we will be asking businesses to substantiate their claims,” Ms Lowe said.
According to the report, the sectors with the greatest proportion of these ‘concerning’ claims were cosmetics and personal care, textiles, clothing, shoes, and the food and beverage industry.
“Already, we have several active investigations underway 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,” concluded the ACCC.
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