Clean, green - and how to prove it

June 26, 2024

Our blog delves into the issue of ‘Greenwashing’ and the role of data-sharing and digital technologies in keeping the trust of consumers and markets.


Clean, green - and how to prove it

Our blog delves into the issue of ‘Greenwashing’ and the role of data-sharing and digital technologies in keeping the trust of consumers and markets.

June 26, 2024

The push to reduce carbon emissions and the growth in eco-conscious consumers means that ‘sustainable’, ‘carbon-neutral’, ‘green’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ have all become valuable marketing terms. Certification schemes can give products a tick of approval and some of our export markets are moving towards tougher sustainability credentials. But there’s also concern that some claims are misleading and can undermine consumer trust.

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing plays on the term ‘whitewashing’ and it’s when misleading information is used to create a false impression that a product or service is sustainable or less harmful for the environment than it really is.  

Why does it matter?

Greenwashing is something the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been examining. An internet sweep in 2022 found more than half the 247 businesses reviewed had made “concerning claims about their environmental or sustainability practices” – things like using vague or unqualified claims, not providing evidence, exaggerating benefits or omitting relevant information, and using third-party certifications in a confusing way.

One third of the 27 textile clothing and footwear businesses reviewed made claims that raised red flags, while the ACCC revealed 13 of 37 food and beverage businesses environmental claims were “concerning”. In the report, the competition watchdog points out that misleading, meaningless, or unclear claims breach consumer trust, something that can reduce confidence in environment and sustainability claims in general. The ACCC has also released guidelines for businesses to improve the integrity of their claims.

Meanwhile, a Senate inquiry into Greenwashing has been looking at the impact on consumers and examples of how companies’ environmental and sustainability claims are regulated here and overseas. It received almost 130 public submissions and held two hearings in Canberra, with evidence from energy companies, the organics industry, regulators, and banks.

The Inquiry is expected to hand down its final report by the end of June but the committee’s chair, Senator Sarah Hansen Young, has already called for stronger laws that ban misleading environmental claims to protect Australian consumers and the environment.  

Evidence to support claims

Businesses, manufacturers and indeed supply chains like agriculture need to be able to demonstrate that the claims they make about sustainability are credible. Having data to backup claims and the right systems to trace products and their credentials will be crucial.  

That’s what occupies the time of Food Agility project officer Molly Rhys-Jones who plays a key role in AgTrace Australia, an initiative led by Food Agility that’s creating verifiable, whole-of-supply chain traceability for the sector.

“Greenwashing erodes consumer trust, and dilutes the important work being done in agriculture to become more sustainable,” she said.  

“Full transparency and traceability of digital data that is fully verifiable and can link Australian products from paddock to plate will help maintain market access and confidence in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and sustainability reporting and accreditation.”

Through AgTrace, Food Agility worked with industry partners to develop the Australian Agricultural Traceability Protocol (AATP).

Ms Rhys-Jones said the AATP empowers farmers to securely capture, reuse and share data in a way that’s tamper proof and not reliant on centralised systems, meaning farmers wouldn’t be required to change their existing systems.

“The protocol is flexible and can be applied to any ESG product or production system claim, for example sustainable land use, emissions, ethics or compliance,” she said. “If a claim is linked to a product, production process, participant or place in the supply chain, then the protocol can help provide an evidence-based link to information about that.”

Importantly, the AATP underpins claims with the guarantee of a trusted source, and provides transparency and rigor to traceability, from farm to market – something that’s key to being able to verify ESG and sustainability claims.

The AATP was shown to be successful in a proof-of-concept trial in the red-meat sector and will soon be tested in grains and horticulture.

AgTrace Australia is funded by a $5 million grant from the Australian Government’s Agricultural Traceability Grant’s program, you can find out more about that via our website.  

Other Food Agility projects are creating a credible and tangible Measurement, Reporting and Verification system to account for greenhouse gas emission in the agribusiness value chain. We’ve also investigated how to provide farmers and bankers with guidance on climate and sustainability research, and benchmarks for sustainability in vineyards – it’s all part of our mission to drive innovation and harness digital tools to improve the sustainability and productivity of farming.  Read more about our projects.

Non-project publications

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