The green advertising slogans that can land you in court

The consumer watchdog has launched a new guide to help businesses avoid illegally misleading consumers when promote the environment credentials of products or services.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Green Marketing and Trade Practices Act guide sets out some common pitfalls businesses and marketers have fallen into in their green focused advertising, including:

  • Claims are not substantiated: A bag manufactured from biodegradable starch product was promoted with the line “even if this bag isn’t thrown in the bin it won’t end up as litter.” The manufacturer could not support this claim and was found by a court to have misled consumers.
  • Claims are too general or unqualified: An air-conditioner company used the image of a frog, the words “green”, “green air conditioning”; “environmentally preferred” and the logo “Ozone Care” in association with one its products, despite the fact that it used an ozone depleting gas. The ads were changed following an ACCC investigation.

The guide also sets out some green catchwords that the ACCC believes can be problematic and should be used in advertising with caution or not at all:

  • Green: A vague term which consumers can attribute with a wide range of meanings and risks misleading them.
  • Environmentally friendly or environmentally safe: Only products that cause absolutely no harm to the environment can make this claim, something few if any products do.
  • Energy efficient: Claims to efficiency must by quantified by comparison to existing benchmarks or rating systems or the basis for the claim explained.
  • Carbon neutral: The entire life cycle of a product must be considered when making claims about the carbon neutrality of a product, and if carbon offset schemes are to be used it is necessary to distinguish between past offset activities and those that are planned for the future.

Kate Norris, sustainable consumption project officer with consumer advocates Choice, says there is no question there are businesses currently in the market that are misleading consumers.

“Some businesses and marketers are obviously trying hard and making significant changes in business practices to be more environmentally friendly; others perhaps not so much,” Norris says.

She says the bottom line is businesses need to apply the common sense test to green advertising.

“Green marketing just needs to be seen like any other marketing – advertisers need to tell the truth and not exaggerate.”


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