Green claims on supermarket labels

Supermarket items make all sorts of green claims but can you trust them?
 
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  • Updated:6 May 2008
 

01.Greenwash

Woman

In brief

  • Many green claims are neither supported by evidence nor well explained, but the good news is there are some reliable green labelling programs.
  • When a product has one green claim, it’s usually got a few. Our investigation of non-food supermarket products with green claims found 637 claims on 185 items — an average of over three claims each.
  • By using our tips you can start to sort the true green claims from the greenwash. But we need stricter regulation of green claims.

Greenwash is deceptive marketing designed to portray a company or product as caring for the environment.

CHOICE is campaigning to make sure green claims are honest and useful, because consumers should be able to sort the true green products from the greenwash.

Please note: this information was current as of May 2008 but is still a useful guide today.


Avoiding greenwash: what to look for

The trick with green 'spin' is that you won’t always be able to tell you've been duped. You might even suspect something’s wrong, when in fact it’s legitimate. We need better regulation of green claims, but in the meantime here’s what you can do to minimise your risk of being greenwashed.

No distractions Think about the impact of the product itself. It’s great if the packet is recyclable or biodegradable too, but it’s not the main point. Ignore green pictures and unofficial logos.

Specific and precise Look for precise claims that explain and give evidence. For example, high percentages and guaranteed minimums of post-consumer recycled content.

Full ingredients Listing of all ingredients in plain English, not just the active ingredients required by law. Plain English is notably lacking in the ingredients labelling of many cleaners and personal care products.

Whole lifecycle Look for evidence that the whole life of the product is handled with care, not just one part of it. Emphasis on one technical aspect (such as 'biodegradable') might be masking a poor environmental performance in other areas.

Third party certified To relevant Australian or ISO standards (International Standards Organisation) or other recognised schemes. For example, certification to ISO14001 is about ongoing improvement to the company’s environmental management processes; it doesn’t guarantee the product has a low environmental impact.

Helpful contact info Be suspicious if there’s no robust evidence of the green claim on the pack and no easy way to obtain it when you get home. Don’t support a manufacturer that doesn’t want you to be able to find out more about them.

Video: The Green Shopping Challenge

Just how easy is it to shop green? We send four secret shoppers to find out.

 
 

 

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