Zali Steggall MP speaks out about harmful advertising and greenwashing

31 May 2023

The effects of marketing for products like gambling, alcohol, and junk food especially in young people are dire and it is extremely important that these are addressed. Australians have become susceptible to influence by marketing due to almost constant exposure through social media and the government should be able to track and measure the influence of such advertising. Now, Australia successfully banned advertising on tobacco products and today is world no tobacco day, we could do the same, I could argue, for fossil fuel companies. Worldwide, deaths from tobacco use estimated to be over 7 million per year. The government has done its part to minimise the harm of the product advertising in Australia. However, there are over 8 million deaths per year associated with effects of burning fossil fuels, breathing in contaminated air leads to horrific health repercussions and currently fossil fuel companies can spread greenwashing and misinformation unchecked to promote their products. Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing tactic that has become a powerful weapon of the fossil fuel industry's arsenal, hindering climate action while millions pay the price. There are over 8 million deaths per year associated with the effect of burning fossil fuels and no regulation. Straight from the tobacco, alcohol and gambling industries' handbook, fossil fuel companies seek social license by greenwashing their activities through advertising and sponsorship. Frequently fossil fuel companies will spend more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally or climate conscious than they do on genuinely minimising the environmental impact. Mining and fossil fuel companies know that they need community support to continue their operations and they will invest in protecting their massive profits through marketing and sponsorship rather than actually transitioning their business. Fossil fuel companies will rarely talk about their products in advertising.
Instead, they will use clever imaging and associations with community groups like sports club to present an impression that the company is positive. For example, BP frequently uses as to promote its renewable energy projects, but nowhere do they say they only make up 4 per cent of the total investment, while 96 per cent remains in gas and oil. Greenwashing by the fossil fuel industry has seriously delayed action and is harmful to Australians. They exert huge influence and through greenwash advertising like phrases using net zero future and boosting renewables without providing informational concrete action they are actually taking. The ACCC recently found examples of greenwashing across industry include where businesses are exaggerating benefits and omitting relevant information through claiming that offsetting carbon emissions has a positive impact on the environment. However, the business has taken no steps to actually reduce its overall emissions. Additionally, the ACCC found the use of aspirational claims with little information on how these goals will be achieved. In many other cases it was unclear what practical changes were being implemented to even achieve these goals. Finally, the use of images which appeared to be trust marks, such as leaves and images of the planet and the colour green, consumers may be misled into believing the business or product is certified by a third party when it is not the case. There is an opportunity to regulate advertising to reduce emissions and keep Australians safe. We deserve accurate representation of what companies are really doing to our planet. We know we have successfully banned tobacco advertising and we could do the same for fossil fuel companies. Of course, that would require political will, which generally is lacking in terms of actually coming down with strong action. When we pursue legislation in relation to this is clear that we can make a huge difference. I welcome the climate council's voluntary code released today to assist sports codes to shift away from fossil fuel sponsorships. We should also introduce mandatory information on standards and omissions on information labels on advertising and products. These measures will help people be informed and actually will direct their consumer habits and practices. We know greenwashing, with all other kinds of advertising of harmful products, should be appropriately regulated by the government. They strongly urge the government to pursue action on these issues and reduce the influence and disinformation that is coming at the moment. Thank you