Supermarkets awash with misleading ‘green’ products

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 7th May 2008

A CHOICE investigation has found an explosion of green claims on product labels that are not supported by evidence, are poorly explained or are irrelevant.

The investigation follows rapid growth in products boasting environmentally friendly claims as consumers are increasingly drawn to products they believe will limit their impact on the environment. New products are being created with packaging a key focus of environmentally friendly claims.

Chief Executive of CHOICE Peter Kell indicated his belief that many companies were using environmentally friendly claims to falsely lure customers. “Green claims have become the plaything of company marketing departments rather than helping consumers,” he said.

“CHOICE investigated green claims in 1996, but the situation now is much worse with a proliferation of meaningless green logos and waffle” he added.

Mr Kell also outlined his concerns for companies who are genuinely committed to becoming ‘green’. “Companies that are serious about environmental standards are penalized when consumers can’t tell the difference between greenwash and claims with substance. We’re in the middle of a greenwash arms race, with consumers and the environment losing out,” said Mr Kell. “Green marketing should help households make an informed choice, but the current open slather on green claims is a recipe for confusion and cynicism.”

Following the investigation CHOICE is now calling for six key reforms to address the problem of greenwash:

  • The Australian Standard on Environmental Labelling (14021) should apply to all green claims. The Standard should be made mandatory for household cleaning products and paper/tissue products as a matter of urgency.
  • Supermarkets should immediately improve the green claims for their ‘house-brand’ products by meeting the Standard for Environmental Labelling and by certifying to reliable and relevant benchmarks.
  • Industry associations that supply consumer products should make adherence to the Australian Standard a membership requirement.
  • The Standard for Environmental Labelling should be updated to reflect contemporary environmental issues such as carbon neutrality and greywater usage.
  • The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission should more aggressively target misleading and deceptive green claims under the Trade Practices Act based on its new Guide for Green Marketing.
  • The Department of the Environment should identify and promote reliable, rigorous and relevant labeling schemes that consumers can trust through a consumer education program and website.

The ACCC have been inundated with complaints from consumers concerned about false environmental claims and are looking to clamp down on companies misleading consumers with false ‘green’ claims under the Trade Practices Act. They have also recently released a ‘Guide for Green Marketing’.