Friday, February 22, 2008

ACCC probing more 'green' ad claims

Mathew Murphy and Ruth Williams
February 23, 2008
The Age

AUSTRALIA's consumer watchdog is investigating more cases of potentially misleading "green" advertising.

Origin Energy, one of the companies pulled up by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for so-called greenwashing, has warned other businesses to "err on the side of caution" when spruiking their green credentials.

ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said more companies were being checked after the ACCC's recent actions against Saab, EnergyAustralia and Origin. It released guidelines this month explaining the Trade Practices Act as it applied to green marketing. "We are now starting to experience over-selling and under-delivering, and potentially misleading conduct," Mr Samuel said.

His concerns were this week echoed by Consumer group Choice and environmental author Clive Hamilton, who this week said that "green washing" was a "particularly obnoxious" form of marketing deception.

Origin agreed last year to withdraw television advertisements showing a spider living in the exhaust pipe of a retired car, an attempt to illustrate its claim that joining its GreenPower scheme was equivalent, in greenhouse gas emission terms, to not driving for two years.

The ACCC said the ads could mislead because they did not differentiate between the 20% and 100% GreenPower deals.

Energy Australia said it could "guarantee" its green power came from "100% renewable sources". But the sources were not accredited offset providers, so the ACCC said the offsets could not be guaranteed.

Origin spokesman Tony Wood said the "world of clean and green is really new and the rules are being worked out as we go. There really needs to be flexibility … we don't need rigid rules, they need to evolve as the industry evolves. We have virtually decided to stay away from the term carbon neutral. The ACCC takes a much more literal view of these terms than perhaps you or I would."

The ACCC is still pursuing Saab over newspaper and magazine ads it ran last year. Companies found guilty of greenwashing face fines of up to $1.1 million.

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