Green watch

Sorting the dodgy green claims from the genuine ones can be a minefield.
 
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  • Updated:27 Nov 2009
 

01 .News: Choice’s GreenWatch campaign notches up another win – this time in the laundry.

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CHOICE is campaigning to bring green labelling and reporting standards up to scratch, expose shonky advertising and help Australians get a better deal for themselves and their environment by:

  • providing consumers with information to confidently make greener decisions.
  • identifying and investigating vague, confusing, false, or misleading green claims.
  • lobbying government and business to improve the standard of green claims.

 

 

Choice’s Green Watch campaign has uncovered another misleading green claim.

Our test of washing powders found that Seventh Generation Natural Laundry Detergent (powder) generates wash water that isn’t safe to use on your garden. The trouble is, it proudly claims on the packet to be ‘safe for septic tanks and grey water systems’. Seventh-Generation-letter

 

To CHOICE, this is greenwash.

CHOICE is working to improve the access consumers have to sustainable products. CHOICE sometimes highlights ‘green buys’ which are products that perform well, are reasonably priced and meet environmental criteria.

We wrote to Seventh Generation and their Australian representative Good Natured, asking that they stop making the ‘safe for greywater’ claim on their laundry powder, and that they improve the product formulation so consumers can support it as a green buy. They responded promptly to our concerns.

 

Following complaints by CHOICE and 66 active consumers, Seventh Greneration has ended false claims that its Natural Laundry Detergent is grey water-safe.

 

Our laundry detergent test revealed that despite claims on the packet, Seventh Generation’s Natural Laundry Detergent is not grey water-safe. In response, we filed a formal complaint with both the company and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). Many consumers joined the action online by emailing the company and the Consumer Affairs Minister, Craig Emerson.

 

Thanks to CHOICE’s exacting test method, the company has since established that the measuring cup included in its detergent is too large. When a consumer follows the packet instructions and uses the cup provided, it leads to overdosing (90g instead of 76). The resulting higher sodium wash water isn’t suitable for use as grey water on the garden. 

 

CHOICE wants 'greywater safe' to be a claim that consumers can trust, regardless of brand or origin. Have you spotted a green claim that needs improving? Tell us about it at campaigns@choice.com.au.

 
 

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02.Why it's important to stop greenwash

 
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From food and everyday household items to cars and plane flights, growing numbers of consumers want to make more sustainable choice. But not all 'green claims' can be trusted.

The issue

Consumers need reliable, simple and comparable information to make greener choices.

Information on product labels and in advertising can be useful for helping consumers make better decisions.

But consumers are getting bombarded by greenwash: deceptive marketing designed to portray a company or product as caring for the environment.

Organisations may mislead consumers by promoting themselves and their products as 'eco-friendly', 'green', 'sustainable' or 'environmentally friendly' and so on, when in fact they are having a negative or negligible impact.

Greenwash has serious consequences. It can prevent real green change by:

  • diverting spending towards products with negligible or non-existent benefits
  • preventing truly green products from differentiating themselves
  • encouraging more greenwash, rather than product innovation.

The Trade Practices Act prohibits companies from making misleading and deceptive claims — green or otherwise. The problem is that while many examples of greenwash may not breach the Trade Practices Act, they’re just not helpful for consumers or the environment.

What we want

We want companies that make green claims to:

  • comply with Australian Standard 14021
  • make accurate, clearly expressed and easy to understand green claims
  • make precise, unambiguous claims, that are easily verifiable
  • strictly comply with the Australian Association of National Advertiser’s (AANA) new Environmental Claims in Advertising and Marketing Code.

We want supermarkets to lead by ensuring their 'own brand' products comply with the Australian Standard, and certify them against reliable benchmarks.

We want industry associations that supply consumer products to demand that their members comply with the Australian Standard.

We want the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to be much tougher when enforcing the Trade Practices Act for green claims, so consumers can be sure there are no false and misleading claims on products and in media advertising.

We want the federal government to:

  • $nameupdate the Australian Standard for making environmental claims so it can cope with claims like 'sustainable', 'carbon neutral' and 'greywater safe'. 
  • mandate compliance with the standard for the most greenwashed product categories, starting with paper/tissue products and household cleaners.
  • identify and promote the reliable, rigorous and relevant environmental labelling schemes - through a consumer education program and website.
  • Tell decision makers you want the greenwash to stop!
  • Follow Choice’s tips for avoiding greenwash
  • Tell us your story - do you suspect you've been greenwashed? Send your story to campaigns@choice.com.au or post the packaging along with contact details and a note about your concerns to Green Watch Campaign, CHOICE, 57 Carrington Rd Marrickville NSW 2204.

 

04.ACCC carbon guidance - a Green Watch win

 

In June 2008 the ACCC released two publications for consumers and business to help explain carbon claims, and the ACCC’s role in regulating them:

CHOICE’s concerns are clearly reflected in both ACCC publications. It’s a win for the CHOICE GreenWatch campaign and we will be watching out for claims that don’t measure up to the ACCC guidance.

Business will need to heed the ACCC’s guidance or risk action under the Trade Practices Act.

Consumers can use the guide to help determine which green claims in the carbon market are trustworthy.

CHOICE contributed to the ACCC guidance by discussing the issues with the ACCC and making a formal submission to their The Trade Practices Act and carbon offset claims. Our recommendations included:

  • standardising carbon claims and closely monitoring them, so that consumers can be sure the carbon offsets and products they buy live up to marketing promises.
  • issuing recognised guidance on what constitutes a good quality carbon offset.

CHOICE is calling on the Government to implement a standard on carbon claims as soon as possible. We are likely to see a lot more carbon marketing claims in the lead up to Australia’s emissions trading scheme. It is too much to expect consumers and the ACCC to scrutinise all the claims in such a fast moving market. So Australia needs a minimum standard for carbon offsets and carbon neutrality.

05.Complaint to ACCC about green beer advertising

 
In July 2008, CHOICE made a formal complaint to the ACCC regarding advertising for Coopers beer. Coopers claims in their advertisement "Big beer. Tiny footprint." From the advertisement it is also reasonable to think Coopers has measured its footprint. However, CHOICE has been advised that at the time the advertisements were run this was not the case. As at mid July 2008, Coopers advised us that it was only just in the process of measuring their carbon footprint, in conjunction with the Federal government’s Greenhouse Challenge scheme.

Read our complaint to the ACCC here.
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