Most of us want to help protect the environment. After all, we only have one planet, and the time for action is now. But, with so many environmental claims and messages out there, it can most certainly be confusing.
Greenwashing is a Grinch!
Greenwashing is when a business uses any claim or omits critical information that makes a product or service seem better or less harmful to the environment than it is. When shopping, it’s common to see a label on a product that says ‘natural’ or ‘eco-friendly’ or has a cute image of a leaf or a recycling symbol without impartial evidence supporting the inferred claim. Greenwashing leads to scepticism and confusion for shoppers.
In 2022, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) conducted an internet sweep to identify industries or sectors that commonly use environmental and sustainability claims and to assess whether these claims have the potential to mislead consumers. Of the 247 businesses reviewed during the sweep, 57% were identified as having made concerning claims about their environmental credentials.
So, what is a credible claim?
Under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), businesses are responsible for not making false or misleading claims. Sustainability claims must be true, accurate and based on reasonable grounds. The ACL states that companies should not claim that a product or service has certain environmental benefits if these claims cannot be substantiated.
According to the United Nations, five principles make up a credible claim:
• Reliability – science-based, accurate and consistent.
• Relevance – addresses a genuine benefit beyond legal compliance and covers all hotspots.
• Clarity – consumer information is clear, and the limits of the claim are disclosed.
• Accessibility – all information and evidence around the claim is easy to find.
• Transparency – relevant evidence is publicly available, including verification methods.
However, not all forms of claim verification are equal. When it comes to global best practice verification, independence is essential. Here are different ways environmental claims can be presented, ranked from least to most robust.
1. Third-party verified: this is where a claim from an independent third party is used and evidence, such as “This product has been independently certified to meet GECA’s Recycled Products lifecycle ecolabel standard, meeting environmental, human health, social and quality impact criteria. Visit www.geca.eco to find out more”.
2. Interested party verified: this is where an interested party, such as an industry or trade peak body, makes a blanket claim, such as “All Australian personal care products are sustainable”.
3. Self-assessed: primarily, this includes claims and logos made by the brand or retailer, such as “All our materials are responsibly sourced”, accompanied by a graphic, e.g. a smiling Planet Earth or a green leaf.
4. Claim is not verified: this is where no benchmark or measurement is made, such as “We care about the environment”, “Planet-friendly”, or “This product is eco-friendly”.
Where to spot a credible claim
The great news is that products and services are available with robust and independent verification to support their claims!
For schemes operating in Australia and New Zealand, check to see if the organisation making the claim is part of the Trusted Labels Group (TLG), which includes the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Australian Organic, Forest Stewardship Council, GECA and the Marine Stewardship Council.
Another simple step is to check if the scheme verifying the claim is a member of ISEAL, the global membership organisation for credible sustainability standards or the Global Ecolabelling Network, the leading network of the world’s most credible and robust ecolabels.
By choosing to purchase products and services that have independently and transparently proven that they’re a better choice for people and planet, you’ll be sending a powerful message to businesses and your loved ones.