Commissioner's blog: It's not easy being green
Labels such as ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘sustainable’ can be attractive for shoppers wanting to do their bit for the environment, but it’s not always easy to sort what’s fact from fiction.
That’s why a recent internet sweep by consumer agencies throughout the world, including Consumer Protection in WA, focused on identifying misleading environmental claims for the first time.
Globally, 1,095 websites promoting products and services like clothes, cosmetics and food were analysed in the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN) sweep, with 40 per cent found to be making claims or using brand-names or language that weren’t supported by evidence.
Of the 74 Australian retail websites targeted, concerns were raised about one-third of them for a number of reasons. Some traders used terms like ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’ in reference to ‘natural products’, but failed to provide adequate explanation or evidence. Others used their own brand eco logos and labels not associated with an accredited organisation, while a number even hid or omitted certain information, such as a product’s pollution levels.
At this stage, regulators haven’t decided whether consumer protection laws have been broken, but the traders identified will now come under greater scrutiny and action taken if evidence of misleading consumers is found.
We hope the results of this survey will encourage consumers to look past the logo, slogans and packaging, and read the ingredients label. They should ask traders to provide evidence of their green practices and claims, such as independent assessments of the eco-friendly nature or ingredients, as well as proof of any accreditations, affiliations or endorsements from environmental organisations.
A fact-sheet is available on the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission website to help consumers understand and evaluate terms such as ‘green’, ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘environmentally safe’.