Amid increased consumer demand for clear information about environmental products and a proliferation of environmental claims by advertisers and industry, the Competition Bureau (Bureau) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) teamed up to produce Environmental Claims: A Guide for Industry and Advertisers (the Guide). The Guide was released on June 25, 2008 and serves two purposes. First, it provides users of ISO 14021 (Environmental Labels and Declarations – Self-declared environmental claims) with a best practices manual for the application of the voluntary international standard. Second, the Guide provides businesses making environmental claims with guidance on how to comply with the applicable laws under the Bureau’s jurisdiction. The Guide will serve as a reference for the Bureau in evaluating whether a claim is false or misleading under the Competition Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act or the Textile Labelling Act.
(i) shows how to avoid misleading or deceptive claims;
(ii) provides examples of both preferred approaches and discouraged approaches to illustrate commonly used environmental claims;
(iii) establishes guidelines for use of the Mobius loop (a recycling symbol); and
(iv) suggests methodologies for tests that can be used to substantiate claims.
Substantiation of Claims
Any statement or symbol that refers to, or creates the general impression that it reflects, the environmental aspects of any product or service is considered an environmental claim. Environmental claims may take the form of statements, symbols or graphics on product labels or in product literature, technical bulletins, advertising, publicity, telemarketing and digital or electronic media. The Guide is built around the principle that businesses should only make environmental claims that have been substantiated and verified prior to being made. While self-declared environmental claims do not require third-party verification of supporting data, such data must be available and accurate. The Guide contains general, recommended testing methodologies, as well as methodologies for specific claims.
The Guide contains a list of 18 specific requirements for making an environmental claim. For example, all claims must be accurate and not misleading, and must be substantiated and verified. They must not directly (or by implication) suggest an environmental improvement which does not exist, or exaggerate the environmental aspect of the product to which the claim relates.
General claims such as “green,” “environmentally friendly,” “ecological (eco)” and “all natural” are discouraged because they do not convey a specific meaning to consumers and are difficult to substantiate. These types of broad claims should be reserved for products or services whose environmental impact throughout their life cycles has been thoroughly examined and verified. Environmental claims that are vague, non-specific, incomplete, irrelevant or cannot be supported through verifiable test methods should not be used. For example, a claim such as “This product uses 20% less electricity in normal use than our previous model” is acceptable, whereas claims such as “This new and improved product is better for the environment” or “This product uses green electricity” are discouraged.
While the Guide does not address all environmental claims which may be made, it does consider a number of commonly made claims such as “recyclable,” “sustainable” and “biodegradable,” and provides guidelines for their usage as well as qualification and evaluation principles. For instance, all compostability claims require an explanatory statement to clarify whether a home composter or municipal composting facility is required. If composting facilities are not available to a sufficient proportion of purchasers, the claim would need to be qualified to identify the limited availability of composting facilities.
Use of Symbols
When an environmental claim is made, the use of a symbol is optional. However, when used, symbols should not be false or misleading, and must satisfy the general requirements of any other types of environmental claims. If a natural object such as a fish or a tree is used, there must be a direct and verifiable link between the object and the implied benefit claimed. The Guide also contains extensive guidelines for the use of the Mobius loop (a recycling symbol) as well as recommended evaluation and claim verification methods.
The Guide provides voluntary guidelines. Therefore, while the Bureau will use the Guide as a reference for evaluating environmental claims, deviations from the Guide may not, in and of themselves, represent contraventions of the Competition Act or the labelling laws enforced by the Bureau. However, if the principles and specific recommendations in the Guide are complied with when making environmental claims, it is unlikely that the claims would raise any concerns under the statutes administered by the Competition Bureau.
The Bureau is allowing for a one-year transition period, starting from the date the Guide was released, to allow businesses to reassess their current advertising and labelling practices in light of the Guide. Nevertheless, during that time, the Bureau is reserving the right to take action in particularly egregious cases of false or misleading environmental advertising. If the Bureau concludes that a business has contravened the misleading advertising provisions of the Competition Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act or the Textile Labelling Act, the Bureau can take action either criminally or civilly.