The majority of Australian businesses investigated in an online sweep by the national consumer watchdog made “concerning” claims about their environmental practices, according to a report released today. This includes misleading or false statements related to environmental and sustainability practices, also known as ‘greenwashing’. The internet sweep took place last year, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) now set to undergo a more extensive investigation to assess what further actions should be taken.
All eight sectors investigated were found to have some level of concerning environmental or sustainability claims. Of the 247 businesses investigated, 57% were found to have made concerning environmental claims. Those with the greatest proportion of concerning claims were in cosmetics and personal care, textiles, garments and shoes, and food and beverage businesses.
What were the claims?
The most common concern found was the use of vague or unqualified claims in relation to environmental practices. This includes terms such as being ‘green’ or ‘kind to the planet’, which don’t have a specific meaning or offer enough detail to allow a consumer to make an informed decision. Claims around the use of sustainable or recycled materials in business products were also flagged. Other concerning practices included removing negative information related to environmental practice, such as saying a product is recyclable when there’s no system in place to collect the product.
Businesses could be subject to fines or legal proceedings, and the ACCC has said it will engage with businesses to improve compliance with consumer laws. Addressing greenwashing claims has been identified as a current priority by the ACCC. Several greenwashing investigations are already underway, with more potentially on the horizon following these recent findings.
What were the results?
Every sector was found to have some level of concerning environmental or sustainability claims. Those with the greatest proportion of concerning claims were in cosmetics and personal care, textiles, garments and shoes, and food and beverage businesses. Only two of the eight sectors investigated had a majority of environmental claims that didn’t raise concerns.
A wider crackdown
Addressing greenwashing claims has been identified as a current priority by the ACCC. Deputy Chair of the ACCC, Catriona Lowe, said there are “several active investigations” underway in relation to greenwashing claims, which could increase following a further assessment of businesses involved in the online sweep. Cracking down on greenwashing claims is also a priority area for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which launched its first-ever court proceedings against a business for misleading environmental claims this week.