Coopers “green” claims questioned

Posted by James Ferre on 25th August 2008

Green Earth

Claims by Coopers Australia that they sell “Australia’s greenest beer” have been questioned by consumer advocates CHOICE, with The Age reporting that a complaint about ‘greenwashing’ has been registered with the ACCC.

Greenwashing, which involves the overstating of the environmental credentials of a product, has been under the spotlight this year as manufacturers and marketers seek to capitalise on heightened consumer interest in environmentally friendly products. The concern prompted the competition watchdog to launch a set of guidance materials on carbon offset claims. It has also seen CHOICE dedicate a section of their website to the issue and the introduction of guidelines from environmentalists and the advertising industry.

In a recent analysis of green claims from brewers CHOICE suggested that Coopers’ concept of ‘greening’ the whole company was admirable but suggested that they failed to back up their claims with facts. “Coopers… appears to have taken the more challenging and ultimately environmentally responsible route of ‘greening’ the whole company. If Coopers meets world’s best practice for water and energy use in producing beer, this could in fact be greener than the other beers that buy their way to greenness through carbon offsets. Admirably, Coopers generates its own electricity onsite, has water recycling facilities, and avoids additives and preservatives,” CHOICE reported.

“The trouble is, Coopers doesn’t provide the reassurance of third-party certification, or support its claims with much evidence. When we asked, Coopers couldn’t confirm what world’s best practice is, nor could it provide comparable data on how it was performing in relation to other beer manufacturers in Australia,” the article continued. “The company also told us it’s just now in the process of measuring their footprint – months after we first spotted its footprint advert.”

In response to continued concerned of ‘greenwashing’ environmental advocates, the Total Environment Centre (TEC), have introduced a Green Cred Checklist. The TEC are fearful that consumers are being manipulated and if greenwashing is perceived to be rife by consumers then their may even be a backlash against products with green claims. “Greenwash needs to be eradicated because what we buy today has consequences for the environment and what we leave future generations. It’s not just about a short term purchasing contract between producer and consumer,” said Jeff Angel, Director of the Centre. “We are supporting a three pronged approach: vigorous Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) action including protection of ‘core’ words like ‘green’ and ‘environment friendly’ from misrepresentation; a strong advertising industry code; and upskilling of the marketers and advertisers to recognise greenwash and stop it at source.”

“We don’t want to scare producers from developing green products and advertisers telling people about their benefits. We want producers to regain credibility, and advertisers to help make green products the normal purchase for people,” Mr Angel added. “TEC will continue to use all three approaches – making complaints to the ACCC where necessary; helping the industry to get an effective code and providing advice on how to avoid greenwash. Our Green Cred Checklist is part of that process.”

The issue of greenwashing is becoming increasingly important for manufacturers and marketers and, as consumers become more skeptical, it is vital that producers support their claims with evidence and certification to ensure they don’t fall foul of the ACCC and consumers alike.

Information about the ACCC policy with regard to green claims can be discovered at: www.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/815763

Please go to www.greencapital.org.au/ for information on TEC’s Green Cred Checklist.

More information about CHOICE’s green campaign can be found at: www.choice.com.au/viewArticle.aspx?id=106456&catId=100165&tid=100008&p=1&title=CHOICE+Green