Environmental and health groups welcome new rules to clamp down on greenwashing, as oil sands’ Pathways Alliance moves to shut down communications

Ottawa | Traditional, Unceded Territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg People | June 20, 2024 — The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), Ecojustice, Équiterre, and the Quebec Environmental Law Center welcome the passage into law of new greenwashing provisions in Bill C-59, which aims to tackle the problem of greenwashing in Canada by introducing tougher rules on companies who make environmental claims. These changes are a response to concerns that greenwashing is a systemic problem in Canada — with companies misleading consumers about their green credentials to attract more business and investments and slow down the adoption of regulations.

The new rules — contained in amendments to the federal Competition Act — aim to protect consumers and genuinely green businesses by requiring companies to back up their environmental claims. Thanks to cross-party collaboration with environmental and health groups, several amendments were introduced which expanded the scope of the Bill so that it applies not just to claims about products, but also to claims about companies and their activities.

These changes should make it easier for the Competition Bureau — which is currently investigating a number of high-profile greenwashing complaints — to do its job more effectively. Crucially, the Bill will also arm ordinary consumers with a way to enforce these rules by taking complaints directly to the Competition Tribunal, easing the enforcement burden on the Competition Bureau.

By making all environmental claims more credible, the Bill will help address consumer skepticism and allow leading firms to reap the rewards of their investments in sustainability.

The impact of the Bill is already being felt — the new threat of federal fines is reported (1) to have led to the Alberta government closing the Alberta Energy “War Room” earlier this week, while Pathways Alliance, a coalition of big Canadian oil sands companies currently under investigation by the Competition Bureau for its “Let’s clean the air” net-zero claims, has silenced its website and social media accounts in response. (2) These immediate impacts are leaving groups hopeful for more accountability from corporations in the oil and gas industry, and beyond.

However, the new rules are not limited to any one industry and could have an impact across the Canadian economy, where commonly used but controversial claims such as “net zero,” “carbon neutral” and “sustainable” will come under closer scrutiny.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), Ecojustice, Équiterre, and the Quebec Environmental Law Center (CQDE) welcome the significant progress made by the updates to the Competition Act and call for further action to protect consumers, support green innovation and reinforce a sustainable competitive economy:

  • The Competition Bureau to engage in a broad public consultation before releasing finalized guidelines identifying the standards that businesses are expected to meet to satisfy the Act’s new requirements. We note that there are already several internationally recognized methodologies that Canadian firms may use to back their claims, such as the United Nation’s Integrity Matters standards for businesses and financial institutions, a readily available international methodology for net zero commitments.
  • Minister Champagne to adopt regulations expressly prohibiting the most egregious and common forms of greenwashing, such as selective disclosure, aspirational claims, or using vague and hard-to-prove terms like “green,” “eco-friendly” and “climate neutral.”
  • The federal government to commit to establishing clear, industry-specific rules about the contents of effective climate plans, such as proposed for the financial sector in the Climate Aligned Finance Act.

1: AlbertaPolitics.ca | https://albertapolitics.ca/2024/06/so-it-really-was-the-anti-greenwashing-provision-in-ottawas-bill-c-59-that-pushed-the-ucp-into-shutting-down-the-war-room/

2: Notice – Pathways Alliance | https://pathwaysalliance.ca/

 

Representatives from the groups made the following statements:

Tanya Jemec, Ecojustice lawyer said:

“We hope that the greenwashing amendments to the Competition Act in Bill C-59 represent the start, not the end, of government action on this issue. While the passage of Bill C-59 is a significant step towards clamping down on rampant greenwashing in Canada, gaps remain that will make it challenging to hold companies to account. For example, companies still do not need to make substantiation of green claims publicly available. Businesses that want the benefits of making a green claim should be willing and able to provide supporting information to the public upfront – not just when challenged.”

Julien Beaulieu, lawyer, researcher with the Québec Environmental Law Center said:

“These amendments will address a particularly pervasive form of greenwashing: the lack of proof. From now on, firms willing to advertise their net-zero commitments, their reliance on carbon offsets and their nature conservation pledges will need to back these claims with sufficient evidence. As a next step, we hope that the government will address other forms of greenwashing, like generic claims and selective disclosures, and that the Competition Bureau will intensify its enforcement efforts.”

Leah Temper, Director of Health and Economic Policy, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment said:

“We are pleased to see that Pathways Alliance’s spurious claims of net-zero tar sands have been taken down, demonstrating the far-reaching impact of this modest provision requiring truth in advertising even before its passage. This marks a potential watershed moment for corporate accountability in Canada, particularly within the oil and gas industry. False green claims, or greenwashing, not only deceive consumers but also contribute to pollution and environmental degradation, with serious implications for human health. It’s encouraging to see that polluters are beginning to understand they can no longer mislead the public about their environmental credentials without evidence. It’s time for them to clean up their act.”

Marc-André Viau, director of government relations at Équiterre:

“Greenwashing is an insidious hindrance on effective climate action. Canada badly needed this legal reform because some of the most powerful industries prefer faking rather than taking action on carbon neutrality. The companies who are actually making significant and meaningful progress on environmental and climate fronts will welcome this levelling of the playing field. Although a welcome advancement, more needs to be done to make sure greenwashing is held in check.”

ABOUT

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) is a physician-directed non-profit organization working to secure human health by protecting the planet. Since its founding in 1994, CAPE’s work has achieved substantial policy victories in collaboration with many partners in the environmental and health movements. From coast to coast to coast, the organization operates throughout the country with regional committees active in most provinces and all territories.

The Centre Québécois du droit de l’environnement (Quebec Environmental Law Centre), Quebec’s only environmental law charity, offers independent legal expertise and education tools to citizens and law students, contributes to the development of progressive environmental law and uses the law to protect the environment and citizens’ rights to access justice.

Ecojustice uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, public interest lawsuits and advocacy lead to precedent-setting court decisions, law and policy that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.

Since 1993, Équiterre has been helping to find solutions, transform social norms and encourage ambitious public policies through research, support, education, mobilization and awareness building initiatives. This progress is helping to establish new principles for how we feed ourselves, how we get around and how we produce and consume, that are designed for our communities, respectful of our ecosystems, in line with social justice and of course, low in carbon.

FOR MEDIA INQUIRIES

Alan Andrews, Program Director – Climate Change | Ecojustice
(604) 685-5618 Ext. 285, aandrews@ecojustice.ca

Karine Peloffy, Project Lead – Sustainable Finance in Program – Ontario Region | Ecojustice
(514) 746-6597, kpeloffy@ecojustice.ca (available for comments in French)

Sophie Turri, Communications Manager | Québec Environmental Law Centre
(438) 979-7951, sophie.turri@cqde.org

Allison Murray, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
604-442-1846, allison@MurrayCommunications.org
Reykia Fick, Director of Communications, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
media@cape.ca

Anthony Côté Leduc, Media relations, Équiterre
(514) 605-2000, acoteleduc@equiterre.org

Cari Siebrits, Communications Strategist | Ecojustice
(647) 620-1212, csiebrits@ecojustice.ca

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