A handful of proposed changes to Canada's Competition Act are good first steps to crack down on corporate greenwashing, but it still needs enforcement measures with teeth, environmental groups say.

With the right amendments, Canada’s Competition Act — which is being updated through Bill C-56 — has the potential to be a greenwashing-fighting machine, said Ecojustice and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). Now, a handful of proposed amendments could get the Competition Act closer, but not all the way to where it should be, the groups say.

The act is intended to prevent anti-competitive practices in the marketplace, such as price-fixing and false advertising, by using a combination of civil and criminal laws. It wasn’t designed to deal with companies making untrue or unsubstantiated climate and sustainability claims while negatively impacting the environment.

Still, this hasn’t stopped environmental groups like Stand.earth from filing complaints against companies. The Competition Bureau has launched several greenwashing investigations in recent years, into RBC and the Canadian Gas Association.

The federal finance committee proposed a greenwashing amendment that would require companies to back up with a test any claims about the environmental or climate benefits of their products.

Another amendment not directly related to climate and sustainability would empower Canadian consumers and organizations to challenge deceptive marketing practices, such as greenwashing, before the Competition Tribunal.

CAPE and Ecojustice say the greenwashing amendment should be expanded to apply not just to sustainability claims about products, but also include company-wide “net-zero” commitments supported with modelling. Canadians and the Competition Bureau should also be able to see the proof themselves. The amendment could be further strengthened to require all tests and modelling are publicly available, the environmental groups said in a news release on Dec. 1.

After the bill is passed, Ecojustice and CAPE are pushing for even more to be done. The groups want a dedicated sustainability unit at the Competition Bureau that focuses on green competition issues.

The Competition Bureau should also publish clear guidelines so companies know what environmental and climate-related claims they legally can make, said Matt Hulse, an Ecojustice lawyer, in a previous interview with Canada’s National Observer.

A handful of proposed changes to Canada's Competition Act are good first steps to crack down on corporate greenwashing, but it still needs enforcement measures with teeth, environmental groups say.

In March, Greenpeace Canada filed a complaint against a group of Canadian oilsands companies called the Pathways Alliance, alleging an ad campaign touting its net-zero emissions pledge gives Canadians the false impression that it can achieve that goal.

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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I'm curious why governments aren't subject to anti-competition laws. When I naively tried to file a complaint about Alberta's Tell The Fed's campaign, which is both false advertising and damaging to Canadian renewable energy companies, I was told that it's considered political advertising and exempt from anti-competition laws. The Alberta government is also guilty of greenwashing with its "responsible resource development" campaigns and funding of the Canadian Energy Center. The "Alberta War Room" frequently posts content of a questionable nature and even organized a campaign against a BC municipality that wanted to be responsible and ban natural gas lines to new residential developments. It's great that corporate greenwashing is facing legal challenges, but governments captured by fossil fuel interests can still greenwash and attack the competition with impunity.

You are 100% correct. It's criminal what Smith and Kenney as well as Poilievre get away with. Our many laws from Competition, Health, Environment and many others are obsolete

Thanks Robert and David, you make excellent points.
The nonsense that goes on from the fossil fuel buddies in government has to stop when it crosses the line into propaganda.
Of course, P.P. would be on his feet in Parliament and on social media to reach his minions claiming the Fed. Govt. is over reaching, and trying to curtail their free speech and censor their internet while ignoring it would be about curtailing environmental misinformation by politicians (like him) and governments (like Danielle Smith).