Recently the CBC ran a segment on its on Marketplace™ show on “eco-labeling” (“Lousy Labels”). So what are the requirements for putting a ‘green’ tag on your product?

In Canada, labeling laws fall within the purview of the federal Competition Bureau. The enforcement of the Competition Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act and the Textile Labeling Act, all fall under the Bureau’s mandate and authority. However, short of a claim being ‘misleading’ or ‘deceptive’, or otherwise running afoul of the specific provisions of these pieces of legislation, there is still a fairly wide scope of opportunity for companies to label their products ‘green’, ‘clean’, ‘eco’, ‘natural’ or ‘organic’. The Bureau posted to its website guidelines developed by the Canadian Standards Association in June 2008 (“Environmental Claims: A Guide for Industry and Advertisers”). The Guidelines are stated to be an aid to industry and advertisers in complying with the statutes. But as the CBC program points out, there is a wide range of interpretation of whether a claim that a product is ‘natural’, ‘green’, or ‘organic’ is in fact misleading.

The Bureau has had various enforcement actions that are related to “green” claims. Most recently (January 17, 2011) the Bureau announced that it had added two spa retailers to its list of seven other spa (hot tub) retailers who had entered into ‘consent agreements’ with the Bureau to cease making ‘misleading representations’. Each had advertised that their hot tubs met the standard of the “Energy Star” program. In each case, the spa retailers were required to pay monetary penalties and to commit to publishing corrective notices for their customers and in their markets. The “Energy Star” program is owned and managed by the US Environmental Protection Agency and managed in Canada by the Office of Energy Efficiency of Natural Resources Canada.

The Bureau also reached an agreement with a US based paint manufacturer to cease its practice of including misleading environmental claims on its products. The company had claimed that its product was made of biodegradable material. Also, in January of 2010, the Bureau announced that more than 450,000 clothing articles had been re-labeled to ensure that textile articles derived from bamboo are properly advertised and labeled. The Bureau reported that the clothing was not made from natural bamboo fibre and in fact was manufactured with rayon fibres made through a chemical process. The Bureau noted, it was not aware of any clothing articles in Canada that were made from natural bamboo fibre.

There is no formal standardization in Canada for ‘green labeling’. There are programs (such as “Energy Star” referred to above) and “Ecologo” an environmental certification program in conjunction with the International Organization for Standardization, but we have a long way to go until standards, based on scientific input or other rigorous standards, are implemented.