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What does the Competition Act have to do with environmental issues?

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Have you ever been at a store comparing two brands of a similar product and opted for the one whose label said that it was good for the environment? Right now, we can't be sure that environmental claims labelling is compliant - but we're working to change that!

It's not a question of being cynical. It's quite possible that the labelling of our favourite products is not at fault. However, it's time for a serious framework to be put in place to better guide consumers.

The reform of Canada’s Competition Act as a solution

A company that invests in greening its business should benefit from the competitive advantage of being an environmentally responsible brand over another company that doesn’t, but pretends it is. It’s called greenwashing, a marketing technique to create an illusion of ecological responsibility, when a company’s practices prove otherwise.

In Canada, there are currently no legal guidelines to regulate how companies make environmental claims.

That’s why Équiterre and several other organizations got involved in the consultation on the reform of Canada’s Competition Act, which took place this spring. Though the link between competition and environment may not be clear, this important piece of economic policy is a strategic place to integrate environmental protection. Though our Competition Act generally prohibits misleading advertising, it currently has severe limitations when it comes to greenwashing.

Here’s how a strengthened Competition Act could better protect the environment

  • It could require companies who make environmental claims to publicly disclose standardized information on how they substantiated their environmental claims, similarly to the requirements for nutrition information on food products;

  • It could propose a regulation to establish minimum standards for corporate environmental declarations and therefore provide more consistency between similar products;

  • It could make it mandatory for companies to disclose the environmental risks and impacts associated with the production and use of their products (as is the case for tobacco products, for instance);

  • It could define and make programmed obsolescence illegal, thereby encouraging companies whose products are more durable.

These modifications, among others, would help better account for the market distortions currently caused by greenwashing. They would help level the playing field and tip the scales in favour of the companies that are sincere in their efforts to reduce the environmental impact of their business.

They would also help stop harmful misinformation campaigns that are slowing down Canada’s energy transition.

⛽️ Greenwashing and oil sands companies

Take the Pathways Alliance, for example, a consortium of Canada’s six largest oil sands companies, who have been running ad campaigns to convince the Canadian public that it is helping Canada transition to a low carbon society. The Pathways Alliance’s deep pockets can pay for strong and effective marketing strategies to greenwash their image, and because its environmental claims are not currently regulated, they can get away with it! The Competition Bureau is currently leading a formal inquiry on this, based on allegations made by some Canadian environmental groups.

Équiterre and other environmental groups have also criticized Énergir for false and misleading claims about their “natural” gas and have lodged a formal complaint to Quebec’s Office de la protection du consommateur.

It’s time for Canada to crack down on greenwashing

Canada has a lot of catching up to do compared to France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and the European Union, where regulating and monitoring environmental claims have become a priority. Canada’s Competition Act dates back to 2008 and significant improvements must be made. The current reform is a great opportunity to show that the federal government is serious about the transition to a low carbon economy.

Équiterre is following this dossier closely. Have a look at our other recommendations and stay tuned for updates this fall!

Towards less greenwashing