green washing

Topics: Environmentalism, Competition Bureau, Competition Act Pages: 5 (1223 words) Published: January 28, 2014
Greenwashing: Cleaning up by ‘saving the world’ | Marketing Magazine

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This article provided courtesy of
Marketing Magazine.

April 25, 2013 | Rebecca Harris | Comments

Greenwashing: Cleaning up by ‘saving the world’
Here’s an excerpt from our April 22 issue

Skepticism is on the rise, but marketers continue to play dirty

05/05/2013 4:19 PM

Greenwashing: Cleaning up by ‘saving the world’ | Marketing Magazine

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While every product has some impact on the environment, people have become more interested in purchases that cause as little harm as possible. Consumer packaged goods companies, seeing green themselves (cha-ching!), have responded to the trend with a fast-to-market fervor not seen since the discovery that Aqua Net was burning a hole in the ozone and everyone turned to hairspray pumps.

But ever since we’ve had green products, we’ve had greenwashing, and little is being done to combat it. To start, there are no laws specifically governing green claims. Federally, the Competition Bureau and the Canadian Standards Association developed green guidelines titled “Environmental Claims: A Guide for Industry and Advertisers” in 2008. While the guidelines are ultimately helpful, if not a little unwieldy, compliance is voluntary. The Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, Textile Labelling Act and Competition Act—which cover false or misleading representations and deceptive marketing practices—can be applied to green marketing, but enforcement on this front is lax. Marketing lawyers say budgetary constraints are to blame and the Competition Bureau hasn’t made this an enforcement priority. The result is a Wild West of green marketing, where companies are getting away with unsubstantiated, vague, misleading or outright false green claims.

05/05/2013 4:19 PM

Greenwashing: Cleaning up by ‘saving the world’ | Marketing Magazine

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But if and when the Competition Bureau decides to put green marketing on the enforcement agenda, companies could be in for some hefty fines: in 2009, the Competition Act was amended, increasing penalties for deceptive marketing to up to $10 million.

“The Competition Bureau has actively pursued that fine against a number of high-profile corporations, primarily in the area of price advertising, but it’s ultimately the same legal basis,” says Chris Oates, a Toronto-based associate at Gowlings, a law firm. “So it’s not inconceivable that the Bureau could choose to target very egregious environmental claims with similarly harsh penalties.”

Michael Kilby, an associate at Toronto law firm Stikeman Elliott, says while the business community has absorbed the voluntary green guidelines to some degree, “there hasn’t been that big precedent-setting case that really sets the tone in the industry.” But, knowing the way the Competition Bureau works, it “might focus on ads or practices that seem particularly problematic and try to send a message with one or two cases, which in their world will have the effect of disciplining all sorts of other companies.”

If multimillion dollar penalties weren’t enough incentive to play a clean game, rising consumer skepticism may be. In 2010, the number of “greener” products on the market in Canada and the U.S. went up by 73%, to more than 4,700 compared to 2009, according to TerraChoice’s most recent “Sins of Greenwashing” report. But a survey by BrandSpark International found that 60% of Canadian consumers believe environmentally friendly claims are often exaggerated or misleading. “The advantage that a company was hoping to gain by identifying environmental attributes is no longer there if the consumer doesn’t believe them,” says Nancy Wright, vice-president of marketing at Vancouver-based Globe Group, which...
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