ACCC sees red about ‘green’

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 9th May 2008

With the explosion of retail products promoting their environmental credentials, marketers and retailers alike have been put on notice by the ACCC to watch their ‘green’ claims.

The announcement by Deputy Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Ms Louise Sylvan, comes in the wake of a recent CHOICE investigation which found misleading environmental claims rife in supermarkets around the country.

“As companies try to position themselves with green credentials, it’s getting hard to find a product without some kind of green claim,” Ms Sylvan said. “Companies risk breaching the Trade Practices Act if they give an overall impression to consumers their product is environmentally friendly when it isn’t.”

“The right of consumers to choose wisely in the market is important – it’s the basis of the free market,” Ms Sylvan said.

“When those demand-side decisions are also a crucial element in consumers contributing to Australia meeting its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then misleading conduct causes far more damage than just individual consumer detriment.

“Undermining the integrity of environmental claims through over-generalised or dishonest claims also undermines competition to produce cleaner more efficient products and industries.”

The ACCC has already taken action against a number of companies in relation to their ‘green’ claims.

Ms Sylvan’s advice to firms was:

“* be honest and truthful – don’t exaggerate and don’t mislead by silence
* be specific – don’t risk a claim, for example, that applies to the packaging only but appears to apply to the whole product
* use language which non-experts can understand – don’t try and bamboozle consumers with meaningless scientific jargon
* explain why your claim has significant benefits – this will help consumers judge whether your product deserves their custom,
* and be able to substantiate your claim.”

Ms Sylvan recommended retailers read the ACCC’s Green Marketing and Trade Practices Act carefully.