Greenwashing: the strengthening of Canada’s environmental marketing rules welcome, but insufficient

Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver | May 29, 2024 — Yesterday, the House of Commons of Canada voted in support of Bill C-59, which will improve the way greenwashing is regulated in Canada. The Quebec Environmental Law Center (CQDE), Ecojustice, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), and Équiterre welcome the significant progress made by this bill that they  had brought to the attention of decision-makers. However, the organizations are disappointed that the bill remains insufficient.

Bill C-59, which aims to reform the Competition Act, introduces a new provision that will require companies making certain environmental allegations to sufficiently document the evidence of their claims. Following the interventions of the environmental groups,  the scope of the bill was amended to ensure that the obligation to substantiate environmental claims applies not only to products, but also to claims about companies and their activities. The bill now also includes allegations related to the cause of climate change and environmental restoration.

Bill C-59 also provides for a right of private access to the Competition Tribunal for greenwashing cases. The four organizations support this measure, which will facilitate the prosecution of companies at fault. Prior to these amendments, only the Competition Bureau was allowed to initiate such recourse.

On the other hand, certain flaws persist. For example, the bill will not require firms to disclose the evidence companies use as basis for their claims, which will prevent consumers from easily identifying potential cases of greenwashing.

The bill must now obtain the approval of the Senate of Canada in order to come into force, and the organizations hope that additional modifications will be adopted in that regard. It is important to remember that firms’ environmental claims are voluntary.  If a business wants the benefits of making a green claim, it should be willing and able to provide supporting information to the public.

 

QUOTES 

“Bill C-59 will require companies that make claims promoting the environmental benefits of their products and activities to back their allegations with evidence. A company that makes environmental allegations without providing this evidence will be subject to legal action. This will enable consumers, investors and decision-makers to make more informed decisions, which is an essential condition.” – Julien Beaulieu, lawyer and researcher with the CQDE

“The adoption of the bill by the House of Commons is a partial victory for the environment and consumers. Despite the progress, we are disappointed that there is no requirement for companies to publicly prove or explain their environmental claims. There continues to be a lack of transparency, and it remains complicated for consumers to understand the credibility of advertised environmental claims. Can we really talk about choice when we don’t have all the tools in hand to make an informed one?” – Tanya Jemec, lawyer with Ecojustice.

“This is an important first step in ensuring that companies can no longer get away with talking green and walking dirty. What we would like to see next is to give this legislation teeth through mandatory data disclosure, clear standards in the form of a green claims guide from the Competition Bureau, and timely and transparent enforcement. Misleading environmental claims can have very real implications for human health. We hope that this sends a clear message to polluters that they will no longer be able to lie to the public about their environmental credentials with impunity” –  Leah Temper, health and economic policy program director at the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).

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