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  • Rachel Green

Greenwashing officially banned in the EU

… and what it means for Australia.


Planet conscious buyers around the globe are applauding the European Union’s ban on greenwashing.


It’s likely that Australia will follow this bold, much needed step to kill the BS, stop misleading buyers and put the importance on the planet that it deserves - with action.



Hold up - what’s greenwashing?


Greenwashing is defined by the European Parliament as “The practice of giving a false impression of the environmental impact or benefits of a product, which can mislead consumers”. Greenwashing is saying sustainable things that your product isn’t, so buyers choose it in the misbelief that they are making planet friendly purchases. It’s a topic I explored in this blog and also in this pod.


Greenwashers use words like “eco friendly”, “natural”, “sustainably made”, “planet conscious” etc when they are none of these things – and when their claims aren’t proven.


Greenwashing banned in EU and Australia hopefully to folow

What’s banned?


In January 2024, the EU declared these are the greenwashing terms they will ban unless you have certified third party proof:


+      Environmentally friendly

+      Natural

+      Biodegradable

+      Climate neutral

+      Eco friendly


This includes:


o   Generic environmental claims on products without proof

o   Claims that a product has a neutral, reduced or positive impact on the environment because the producer is offsetting emissions

o   Sustainability labels that are not based on approved certification schemes or established by public authorities.


This HUGE legislative change will come into force by the end of 2026. European brands are scrambling to sort out their products, sourcing, messaging and packaging right now.


These new rules make product labelling clearer and more trustworthy – without vague green claims. The proof for green messaging must come from an independent certified authority, which could be something in Australia like B Corp, Australian Certified Organic, Australasian Bioplastics Association, Forest Stewardship Council certified etc.


Brands that are really good at greenwashing in Australia are:


→ Coles (their dog poo bags)


→ Multilix Biodegradable cling wrap – just don’t. It’s definitely not destined for your compost.


→ Earth Choice detergent (claims it’s “natural” but its packed with chemicals and things you don’t want anywhere near your food or body)


→ H&M (closed loop clothes recycling that’s not actually recycled)


→ BHP and just about every fossil fuel business that exists. Offsetting your fossil fuelling, dirty mining and earth raping with carbon credits does not equate to operating a planet first, low impact approach.


→ Lucas’ Pawpaw lip balm (it has a touch of pure paw paw but its mostly made of petroleum jelly).


I would even say that clothing made of recycled plastic is greenwashing. What is sustainable, planet focused or earth friendly about a product made of petrochemicals that releases microplastics into the water system every time it’s washed? (And the toxins on your skin all day). Yes, you could use a Guppy Friend but they don’t catch all the fluff – and they’re made of synthetics themselves.


While reusing plastic that’s already created makes some sense because once plastic exists it can’t unexist, I don’t think reusing it in this way is straight up planet friendly – there’s more to the story and that’s why it’s called greenwashing.


Greenwashing banned Australia
Credit: Unsplash

The UN makes it clear: “greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon and methane, from human activities are wrapping the Earth in a blanket of pollution that has warmed the planet and led to severe impacts such as more intense storms, droughts, floods and wildfires.


In Australia, we know this – crazy, out of control busy fires. Wild storms that unleash rock-size hail balls. Whipping winds like we’ve never seen. Climate change is undeniable  - it is caused by humans.

 

What’s so wrong about greenwashing?


It’s dangerous, deliberate and deceptive.


Simply, it’s unethical. It’s a marketing tactic. And this kind of shady marketing (excellent pod on unethical marketing here) is exactly why for a long time I’ve been ashamed to be a marketer - with a marketing degree.


Marketing is twisted. It plays on our weaknesses, our ignorance, on the truth. It’s also why I am now a copywriter for brands with conscience. Because I want to help the good ones – the people who give a damn about tomorrow with the impact and actions of today.


Greenwashing is misleading customers at the cost of the planet. It’s unsustainable  - the world has long known about the limited resources we have. It’s a false economy for the earth. For example, products labelled “compostable” without any mention of Australian standards as home compostable are not actually meant to break down in your garden compost. They just say that so you feel better about buying it – it’s playing on your guilt and targeting the consumers who do care about their impact on the planet.


And products that claim they’re biodegradable? That’s greenwashing 101. It simply means they will break down over time. Everything will break down, given enough time. Great, plastic, chemicals and toxic cocktails leaching into the earth over the next billionty years.


We have to do better.

 

If you’re thinking, “This is excellent – but what does it mean for Australia?” I’ll let the European Parliament’s Biljana Borzan (S&D, HR) tell you.


“People will be able to choose products that are more durable, repairable and sustainable thanks to reliable labels and advertisements. Most importantly, companies can no longer trick people by saying that plastic bottles are good because the company planted trees somewhere – or say that something is sustainable without explaining how. This is a big win for all of us!”

 

Australia often follows the EU’s lead… we have strong political, economic and cultural ties with the EU, working closely to meet shared global responsibilities such as promoting sustainable development, tackling climate change and respect for international law. In December 2023, the ACCC launched new guidelines for making environmental claims for business, which could be the perfect launchpad for adopting the EU’s greenwashing ban here.


If we see it roll out successfully there, I hope we will learn and copy.


Greenwashing Australia opinion

What does this mean for Australian small business?


Good things, many good things – for people, planet and hopefully profit.


Better choices and empowered buying.


You’ll have 100% confidence that your purchases are planet friendly. You won’t need to double think and do your own research to determine if something is genuinely sustainable. You can trust brands more. You can make a more informed decision from the get-go.

 

You’ll be presented with more durable products (take that, Kmart crap) and considered end-of-life destination.


Closed loop systems will rise and become more of a mainstream concept.


For business, transparency will be clearer than ever. No hiding, obfuscating or twisting the story.


The playing field will be levelled – big brands can’t use their dollars, shelf space and brand power to slug us with deceptive marketing.


If brands are greenwashing, they’re going to lose some serious (brand) face. No one likes being lied to. We vote with our dollars.


With so much manufactured in China and cheaper labour countries, this could also mean they have to pull up their socks with manufacturing and product creation – or the lose contracts. It might mean their environment fares better too, if they’re creating less chemical, single use junk that bleeds into their land also. One effect could be that more products are made in the country their sold where we can be sure of environmental standards. Which could mean more jobs stay here – but may also mean prices rise.


Ok so what does all this mean for product copy and messaging?


If you’re doing the right thing and can back up your sustainability claims with certified third party proof, soldier on, legend. If you don’t have that proof – get it. And be upfront that you’re working towards it.

The greenwashing ban in Australia could also mean your copy has…


🛒 Tighter product descriptions – no vague or exaggerated eco claims, just the truth about a product’s environmental impact.


🛒 You may need to provide more details about how your product is sustainable through things like materials, production, energy usage, end of life etc.


🛒 Fact-focused messaging that flicks the fluff – and that doubles down on the fact checking.


🛒 More meaningful messaging that reframes your brand as truly, deeply eco friendly.


🛒 Honesty – it reigns, like never before.

 

What next?


The EU has to legalise these bans and make them law. Sit tight until November 2024 for that to lock into place. Then we see what greenwashing moves Australia makes.

For now, Australian businesses can think long and deep about the right thing to do – hopefully that means shift into an earth friendly gear, as best you can, with the certifications to prove it. Or stay as you are and remove any green claims from your business.

 

What do you think these changes will mean for Australian small business? Drop your thoughts below. And if you need help to get your brand messaging right, I could be the copywriter you need.

 



Sources



1 Comment

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May 20
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great article Rach, finally brands are being outed as greenwashing and people can make more informed and better choices when buying products! Thank you for sharing this information so clearly and giving us examples of brands that are greenwashing us 🌱

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