Environmental claims and greenwashing

Table of Contents

Countless Canadians are concerned about the environment and climate change. Therefore, many are looking for products and services that are less harmful to the environment. This has led to an increased demand for “green” products or services.

While the supply of “green” products has greatly increased in response to this demand, there has also been an increase of false or misleading environmental ads or claims, also known as greenwashing. This practice harms competition and innovation because consumers are being mislead and are therefore unable to make an informed purchasing decision. Businesses who actually offer a product that has a lower environmental impact may see their potential consumers being misled into purchasing products and services from competitors that made false or misleading claims.    

False, misleading or unsubstantiated environmental claims may raise concerns under the laws enforced by the Competition Bureau: the Competition Act, the Textile Labelling Act, and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act. The Bureau takes environmental claims seriously and will take action in accordance with the laws we enforce

Making environmental claims about your products and services

To attract environmentally-conscious consumers, you may want to feature ads, slogans, logos and packaging highlighting environmental attributes or benefits of your product or service. However, if you portray your products and services as having more environmental benefits than they truly have, you may be greenwashing, which could be illegal. Businesses should avoid vague claims such as “eco-friendly” or “safe for the environment”, which can lead to multiple interpretations, misunderstanding and deception.

If your business makes an environmental claim about a product or service, remember that the laws enforced by the Bureau directly apply to environmental claims that are false, misleading or not based on adequate and proper testing.

Follow best practices by making sure that your claims:

  • are truthful and aren’t misleading;
  • are specific: be precise about the environmental benefits of your product;  
  • are substantiated and verifiable: claims must be tested and all tests must be adequate and proper;
  • do not result in misinterpretations;
  • do not exaggerate the environmental benefits of your product; and
  • do not imply that your product is endorsed by a third-party organization if it isn’t; and,

If you’re unsure whether a claim will mislead or misrepresent, then don’t make the claim!

Remaining vigilant as a consumer

Many Canadians wish to purchase items that have a lower impact on the environment.

When you’re shopping for products or services, be on the lookout for greenwashing. Be vigilant against environmental claims that seem vague, exaggerated or are not accompanied by supporting statements. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the manufacturer to ask them questions. Also remember that all consumer goods have an impact on the environment, including those that claim to be "green".

If you believe that a business is engaging in deceptive or anti-competitive activities, report it to the Bureau.

How the laws apply

The Bureau takes environmental claims seriously. The Bureau will take action to combat claims that raise issues under the Competition Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act as well as the Textile Labeling Act. The Bureau may take into account national and international standards, technological and scientific advances, consumer behaviour and other legal requirements. Environmental claims that raise issues under these laws will be examined on a case-by-case basis and assessed on their own merits.

The Competition Act

Generally, the Competition Act’s deceptive marketing provisions prohibit businesses from making false or misleading claims to promote a service, product or business interest. Such claims include any messages, pictures, or verbal communications, including online and in-store advertisements, social media messages, promotional emails, among other things. To determine whether a claim is false or misleading, the courts consider the "general impression" it conveys, as well as its literal meaning.

The Competition Act also prohibits performance claims that are not based on adequate and proper testing. This includes any form of statement, warranty or guarantee of a product’s performance, efficacy or length of life. Performance claims provide consumers with important information about products or services that allow them to make informed purchasing decisions. When buying a product, Canadians expect that all performance claims are based on sound testing and that the product will perform as advertised. The Bureau’s position is that performance claims that are not based on adequate and proper testing can mislead consumers into buying one product over another, undermining a fair and properly functioning marketplace and harming Canadians.

The Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act

The Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (CPLA) requires that prepackaged non-food consumer products bear accurate and meaningful labelling information to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions.

The CPLA prohibits the making of false or misleading representations and sets out specifications for mandatory label information such as the product's name, net quantity and dealer identity. All information on a package, whether in symbols or words, must be neither false nor misleading to consumers.

Textile Labelling Act

The Textile Labelling Act is a regulatory statute. It requires that consumer textile articles bear accurate and meaningful labelling information to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions. The Textile Labelling Act prohibits the making of false or misleading representations and sets out specifications for mandatory label information such as the generic name of each fibre present and the dealer's full name and postal address or a CA identification number. The Textile Labelling Act allows designated inspectors to: enter any place at any reasonable time; examine textile fibre products, open packages, examine and make copies of documents or papers; and seize products, labelling, packaging or advertising material which do not conform with the Textile Labelling Act and Regulations.

Archiving

The Competition Bureau has archived Environmental claims: A guide for industry and advertisers. The Guide may not reflect the Bureau’s current policies or practices and does not reflect the latest standards and evolving environmental concerns. The guide will remain available for reference, research and recordkeeping purposes, but it will not be altered or updated as of the date of archiving.

Further reading for businesses

Further reading for consumers