Canadian Groups Issue New Eco-Claim Guidelines

Canadian Groups Issue New Eco-Claim Guidelines

More detail is better when it comes to environmental claims, according to new guidelines issued by the Competition Bureau and the Canadian Standards Association.

The groups detail the guidelines in Environmental Claims: A Guide for Industry and Advertisers to help companies avoid misleading and false statements.

The overall message is to avoid vague, general terms and instead focus on detailing specifics about products. The guide discourages the use of "green," "environmentally friendly," "all natural" and "eco" since, when used alone, they have no specific meaning. Claims should only be made when they can be substantiated and verified with supporting information.

When indicating a product is recyclable or contains recycled content, a product should not only have a symbol for recycling, but also information on the percentage of recycled content and if only certain parts of it are recyclable.

When saying a product is recyclable, compostable, degradable or designed to be disassembled, it should include more information that just those phrases, adding details on how it can be composted or caveats if products can only be disassembled in certain areas.

Saying that a product is "free" of a particular substance should be worded carefully. If a product never contained a substance, such as lead, it should not claim to be lead-free. Another example the guide gives is saying that organic products are pesticide-free, since pesticides were never used for organic products. When it comes to certain substances, though, products can make statements such as "chlorine-free as always" if a substance is revealed to be harmful.

Claims about the benefits of a product should also be realistic. A product that has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions should not claim to be solving climate change, according to the groups.

The guide is aimed at manufacturers, importers, distributors, retailers or anyone else who would benefit from self-declared environmental claims that are not independently verified or certified by a third party.

The Competition Bureau, which enforces violations of environmental claims under the Competition Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, or the Textile Labelling Act, is allowing a one-year transition period for companies to change their claims on advertising and packaging, but has said it will go after any extreme violations.

Violations can result in criminal or civil prosecution, with the maximum criminal punishment being a fine at the discretion of the court and/or up to five years in prison. Civil punishments are fined up to $50,000 for an individual or up to $100,000 for a corporation. Violations related to product labeling can result in packaging seizure, fines up to $10,000 and one year in prison.