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The ACCC’s Environmental Claims Guidance is good news (for those who use it wisely)
27 July 2023

The ACCC’s Environmental Claims Guidance is good news (for those who use it wisely)

2 minute read
Net zero Corporate climate action
Jaime Laird Managing Consultant (Creative Strategy), Communications
Kata Bors Head of Client Communications

We’re all familiar with the risks of greenwashing. But when companies that are genuinely pursuing sustainable practices fail to share their efforts, they can fall into the trap of ‘green-hushing’.

After all, as the consequences of saying the wrong thing get higher, it can feel safer to say nothing at all. In fact, one in four companies that are backing their climate pledges with robust, science-based targets, do not plan to talk about them.

Saying the wrong thing can land businesses in hot water. But saying nothing gets in the way of consumers' ability to make values-aligned choices. Over half of Australian consumers (56%) actively look for brands and products that support causes or have environmentally friendly attributes.

Our take on the ACCC guidance

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has just published draft Environmental Claims Guidance, which is a critical step in rebuilding consumer trust in sustainability claims, and supporting businesses to communicate with confidence.

The challenge for sustainability communicators is to say the right thing from a regulatory standpoint, while also saying it in a way that everyone can understand and be inspired by. In a nutshell: the talk must mirror the walk.

To make things simple, we’ve translated the ACCC’s eight key principles

1: Make accurate and truthful claims.

Translation: Tell the truth, without exaggeration.

2: Have evidence to back up your claims.

Translation: Ensure relevant data is complete and accessible.

3: Don’t leave out or hide important information.

Translation: Don’t cherry pick, and be transparent about where you haven’t hit the mark.

4: Explain any conditions or qualifications on your claims.

Translation: If claims are not true in every circumstance, explain how and why.

5: Avoid broad and unqualified claims.

Translation: Be specific, and explain limitations.

6: Use clear and easy-to-understand language.

Translation: Say it simply, and define unavoidable jargon.

7: Visual elements should not give the wrong impression.

Translation: Take as much care with colours, symbols, and imagery as you do with words.

8: Be direct and open about your sustainability transition.

Translation: Be clear about how you will achieve your aspirations and targets.

This is part of a global push towards more credible claims

The ACCC's guidance is just the latest in a growing trend of countries — whether through consumer watchdogs or specific legislation — taking a stand on green claims. From the EU draft Green Claims Directive, to the US seeking public comments on potential updates to its 'green guides', to the French Government passing legislation with strict requirements on when companies can claim 'carbon neutrality', this is a fast-moving space.

Best practice guidance is emerging from leaders in the climate action space too, such as the Science Based Targets Initiative's (SBTi) open consultation on Beyond Value Chain Mitigation as part of its Corporate Net Zero Standard, and the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI) Claims Code of Practice released last month.

South Pole is also pioneering in this space, aiming to help companies navigate this complexity with our sustainability communications services, and also tangible solutions to help organisations engage stakeholders with credible claims, such as our Funding Climate Action label.

Our recently published Corporate Claims Report also provides a snapshot of the current landscape of regulation and best practice, along with practical guidance — closely aligned with ACCC's principles — to help organisations master their climate claims.

Companies can (and should) communicate their sustainability efforts with confidence

Nationally-consistent environmental claims guidance is great news for companies who are already walking the walk, and are ready to talk the talk. It helps reduce risk and create a level playing field for brands, and will ultimately lead to better visibility and transparency for consumers.

Companies that bring their climate action to life through powerful and credible storytelling, engagement strategies and campaigns can bring their investors, employees and customers along on their climate journey. Winning hearts and minds through transparent communications is not only good for business — securing finance, customer satisfaction and talent attraction to name a few benefits — but also critical to ensure companies have the resources and support to actually deliver on their long-term decarbonisation strategies.

After all, we need everyone, everywhere to play a role in solving this climate crisis.

Learn how to build credible climate claims in South Pole’s 2023 report.
At the Crossroads of Climate Communications: Mastering Climate Claims in 2023 Report
Learn how to build credible climate claims in South Pole’s 2023 report.
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