The Australian consumer watchdog’s crackdown on ‘greenwashing’ has found 11 companies in the motor vehicle sector made concerning claims about their environmental actions.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recently published the findings of its recent “sweep” of environmental claims across various economic sectors, comprising 247 companies in total and 29 from the motor vehicle sector.
Of these 29 brands in the vehicle industry investigated, the report says 11 made “concerning claims” about the degree to which they were acting sustainably.
“The use of environmental and sustainability claims is… becoming more common in the marketing of consumer goods,” the ACCC said in its report.
“However, there are concerns that a significant proportion of the claims made by businesses may be false, misleading, or have no reasonable basis. This is often known as ‘greenwashing’.”
There will be no action for now, since the aim of the self-entitled “sweep” was to identify sectors which commonly use environmental and sustainability claims. Longer-term though, the ACCC does have the ability to find companies in breach of Australian Consumer Laws.
The lack of naming and shaming has not stopped lobbyist Greenpeace from calling for the ACCC to investigate market-leader Toyota for what it dubs misleading or deceptive claims around the goal of hitting net zero by 2050, and claimed leadership in emissions reductions despite a lack of BEVs.
The ACCC watchdog says the most common issue identified in its sweep was the “high proportion of vague and unqualified claims” and use of terms such as ‘green’, ‘kind to the planet’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘responsible’ or ‘sustainable’ to describe products without supporting evidence.
It also flagged a concerning lack of substantiating information related to environmental claims in many cases, and found examples of brands exaggerating benefits or omitting key information – such as a company crowing about taking measures that were merely required by law.
The body also criticised brands claiming aspirational goals such as ‘hitting net zero’ without an achievable roadmap, and improper use of third-party certifications.
One other area of interest noted was a trend towards what the ACCC found to be an excessive reliance on ‘absolute claims’, such as calling a product “zero emissions” without taking into account production, transport and end-of-life disposal factors.
So you may be wondering, what comes next?
The ACCC says it identified “several high-level concerns across the range of industries” and will undertake enforcement, compliance, and education activities where appropriate.
“This will include producing updated economy-wide guidance material, as well as targeted guidance for specific sectors. The ACCC will also engage directly with businesses and industry associations to improve compliance with the ACL,” it added.
“Where concerns have been identified with specific businesses, a more targeted assessment of the conduct will be undertaken to determine the appropriate compliance or enforcement approach.
“Depending on the circumstances, this may lead to an administrative resolution, issuing an infringement notice, or legal proceedings.”
While the motor industry (11 of 29 making iffy claims) may seem bad in regards to potential greenwashing, it was far from the worst sector.
In fact a majority (57 per cent) of the 247 businesses analysed were identified as making concerning claims, the worst being companies involved in takeaway packaging, cosmetics, food and beverages, garments, and energy supply.
Tell us readers, do you see any car companies making questionable environmental claims?