ACCC addresses “greenwashing”

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 27th June 2008

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman, Mr Graeme Samuel, today launched a set of ACCC guidance materials on carbon offsets claims.

The launch of new guidelines has been made to deal with concerns about marketers overstating the improvements organisations have made to their company to offset carbon emissions. “There is a growing trend of marketing claims about the ability to ‘neutralise’ the carbon footprint of, for example, cars, flights and households using carbon offsets,” he claimed. “Consumer concerns about the veracity of claims on carbon offsets have led the ACCC to develop guidance for consumers and industry on the Trade Practices Act implications of carbon offset claims.”

Mr Samuel reported that since January 2008 the ACCC has held consultations with interested parties to discuss an ACCC Issues paper titled ‘The Trade Practices Act and carbon offset claims’. “The ACCC consulted broadly with stakeholders including consumer groups, accreditation agencies, offset providers and corporate participants in carbon offsets schemes,” he said. “The difficulties in understanding and verifying carbon claims give rise to concerns that consumers may be facing misleading and deceptive conduct associated with this emerging market.”

“Carbon claims and the Trade Practices Act is a guide for business and industry. It is intended to educate businesses about their obligations under the Act and to alert them to potentially problematic areas,” he added. “The guide examines areas of concern identified in the consultation and submission process, including forward credited offsets, double counted offsets, low quality offsets and carbon neutrality.”

Mr Samuel said the Consumer Consultative Committee would have a particular interest in ‘Avoiding hot air: a consumer guide to carbon claims’, which is set to be published on the ACCC website as part of a new ‘environmental claims’ section.

Mr Samuel stressed that the ACCC is simply trying to enforce the Trade Practices Act and is not advocating particular standards nor entering the policy debate on climate change. “Our focus is on ensuring that appropriate steps are taken by business so that claims of carbon offsets or carbon neutrality are not misleading and that these claims are clear and understandable for consumers,” he said.
The ACCC has been active on ‘greenwashing’ and since December 2007, has achieved a number of market outcomes relating to ‘green’ claims with updated guidance provided to industry and consumers alike. In developing this general guidance the ACCC believed it was now apparent that carbon offset claims were becoming a key area of concern.

“The ACCC guidance will provide a tool for consumers and business in navigating the sometimes murky waters of this new market.”