Voluntary greenwashing code on the way



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It could soon become much easier to shop for products that don't damage the environment.

Under a new code of practice introduced by the advertising industry, companies will no longer be able to claim their products are environment-friendly without providing proof.

The Environmental Claims Advertising and Marketing Code will come into effect in 2010 and will prevent companies from misleading customers and making unsubstantiated claims about their products effect on the environment.

"This Code of Practice will provide the necessary guidance to advertisers and marketers to ensure that the claims they are making are accurate and honest," said Scott McClellan, chief executive of the Australian Association of National Advertisers.

McClellan said the new code will help reduce greenwashing by making advertisers more accountable for their labels.

"Advertisers should be encouraged to develop and promote environmentally sustainable products," McClellan said, as long as the claims that are being made are "credible and legitimate."

According to McClellan, companies are more interested than ever to make products that are better for the environment but general claims such as 'natural', 'biodegradable' and 'environmentally friendly' can undermine consumer confidence.

Self regulation

Under the code, advertisers must be able to validate their claims with sufficient evidence should a complaint be made to the Advertising Standards Bureau.

The AANA represents the interests of Australian advertisers and other stakeholders and the new code will be incorporated into the association's existing self-regulatory practices.

However Victoria Coleman, Sustainability spokesperson from consumer group Choice, says self-regulation rarely works in the advertising industry and a review of labelling legislation needs to be completed to make companies accountable for self declared claims such as "environmentally friendly" and "green."

A survey completed by Choice last year, found that of the products claiming to be green, only three out of 185 products claimed to meet the Australian Standard on Environmental Labeling.

"We're not entirely convinced there will be a benefit [for consumers]," Coleman said.

Coleman said that if anything the code would provide a guideline for some companies but without proper legislation advertisers will be able to continue to make broad and vague environmental claims to sell a product.

McClellan disagreed and said that "naming and shaming" of companies is a very effective deterrent.

"If they are called into the Complaints Board and it is shown that they have engaged in green washing they will have to suffer the damage to their reputation which is more damaging than the financial penalties of a regulator."