First off, what is it?
The Green Marketing and the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) is a government document which states that any environmental claims made by a business must be upheld in their practice. It addresses marketing claims, labelling and advertising and promotion across all medium (these include print, tv, radio and internet).
The guidelines cover all products not just sustainable or eco-friendly kids' clothing.
Guidelines to avoid being green marketed to (greenwashed)
Be wary of companies:
- Who use unqualified or general statements,
- Who use environmental claim where they add no extra value to the product,
- Whose claims do not consider the whole product,
- Which use the language ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘eco-friendly’ as they are vague and could have the potential to mislead you. Also, almost all products have some adverse impact on the environment in their process or consumption therefore the claim is more than likely wrong from the start.
Consumers’ rights around green marketing
- Consumers have a right to not be misled or deceived by businesses including by greenwashing and if such practice is carried out then the business could face serious penalties.
- Misleading conduct can include silence and predictions.
- Consumers have a right not to be shown false or misleading representations of a good or service.
Businesses’ responsibilities around green marketing
Companies are allowed to make environmental claims but there are some guidelines to help them not to breach the ACL.
- For example, avoiding terms like ‘safe’ and ‘friendly’ as these could encourage skepticism or be considered misleading. ‘Green’ marketing can also be seen as misleading too as this is a vague statement. Broad claims like these can be problematic as it does not specify a clear environmental benefit.
- Businesses must spell out what is beneficial about a product without using jargon so the consumer can understand easily.
- Businesses must also link the environmental benefit to the specific part of the product and/or production process such as manufacture, use or packaging.
- Any claims made by a business regarding the environment must be able to be backed up.
- Claims should only be made for a real benefit. For example, a company claiming that their factory only uses LED lights powered by renewable energy is misleading when LED lighting is mandated by law and everyone in the same jurisdiction uses renewable energy.
- Claims must not overstate benefit. A company claiming that ‘50% more recycled content’ when the recycled content was previously 1% in the first place, is giving a misleading overall impression.
- Environmental images such as forests, the earth or certain endangered animals should be used with care as they may suggest environmental benefits or advantages linked to the product.
- Claims should consider the whole product life cycle. The manufacturing, recycling, destruction and disposal process of the product should be taken into account.
- Avoid giving the impression that your product is completely kind to the environment if it is not.
The Australian Consumer Law helps to prevent greenwashing as it makes clear the guidelines businesses should follow if they want to make environmental claims.
Penalties for companies that make greenwashing claims
If a company does breach the ACL and uses false or misleading representations relevant to environmental claims, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) can pursue legal action. This could involve fines of up to $1.1 million for companies. Some other punishments include injunctions, corrective advertising orders and community service orders.
This article is the writers’ interpretation of the Green Marketing and the Australian Consumer Law document and as such may contain errors. This article should not be treated as wholly and legally representative of the Australian Consumer Law and does not necessarily represent the views of Lily & Lord Pty Ltd. Please refer to the original document here, the ACCC and seek your own legal advice.
The US Federal Trade Commission has a similar guide called Green Guides.
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