Bureaucrats grilled over ‘fake’ govt emissions certificate during greenwash inquiry

The federal environment department is handing out an emissions certification trademark that’s yet to be officially certified by the government’s own regulator, an inquiry has heard.

Jo Evans: Climate Active certification ‘not perfect’

According to the Climate Active website, Climate Active certification is awarded to businesses and organisations that have “credibly reached a state of carbon neutrality” and is described as a legitimate stamp of approval of green credentials.

Around 700 trademarks have been issued to companies, precincts, events, products and organisations including numerous local governments.

Certified brands include AGL, AMPOL (which sells ‘carbon neutral petrol’), ANZ Bank, Australia Post, Australian Mines, Coles, Boral, Jetstar, Mirvac, Property NSW, PWC, Qantas and Virgin Australia.

Even cigarette company British Tobacco was a recipient until recently when certification was withdrawn after it was found to have breached a World Health Organisation treaty to which Australia is a signatory.

Lack of clarity

The ACCC told a hearing of a Senate reference committee on Monday that it had been referred the governments’ Climate Active trademark by IP Australia, the government agency responsible for registering trademarks, but didn’t certify it because of lack of clarity about the rules around certification.

“It was sent to us by IP Australia quite a long time ago, then we engaged with the applicant over quite a long period of time mainly over the rules, saying we didn’t have clarity on what the rules were,” executive general manager, mergers, exemptions and digital at the ACCC Tom Leuner said.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, which is administering the scheme, later informed the ACC it was reviewing it and asked for the assessment to be paused, Mr Leuner said.

“So the government’s own climate active trademark hasn’t even received official certification form the ACCC,” Committee Chair Sarah Hanson-Yound said.

Mr Leuner replied: “That’s correct.”

Trademark ‘not inappropriate’

Continuing her inquisition with bureaucrats from DCCEEW, Ms Hanson-Young said: “I’m baffled as to how the department is continuing with this trade mark that has not been officially certified by ACCC”.

“The climate active website itself says the trademark confirms that a carbon neutral claim has met a robust standard and is a legitimate and visible tick of approval. Can you help us understand how on earth the government has got itself into this position?”

There’s nothing improper about us continuing to use the trademark as it is.

DCCEEW deputy secretary Jo Evans

DCCEEW deputy secretary Jo Evans denied the the trademark was misleading and noted while not perfect, it was under review

“There’s nothing improper about us continuing to use the trademark as it is,” she said.

“We see a program that has been around for a long time, it’s subject to a current review and we will be looking at in light of all the questions that have been raised”.

‘Like an episode of Utopia’

The committee also heard that companies could get a discount for applying for multiple Climate Active trademarks, prompting Senator Hansen Young to say, “so if you can game the system once you may as well put in a few more products along the way?”

“Senator I don’t agree with the way you are characterising  what we are simply describing as the fee structure for the program,” Ms Evans said.

I feel like I’m in an episode of Utopia. If Utopia was going to come up with a trademark, this is what they’d come up with.

Senator Sarah Hansen-Young

 Ms Hansen-Young also compared it to an episode of the satirical TV series Utopia.

“I feel like I’m in an episode of Utopia. If Utopia was going to come up with a trademark, this is what they’d come up with,” she said.

“That’s not a question Senator, so,” Ms Evans replied.

Ms Evans also objected to Ms Hanson-Young’s question as to  “why would a company pay the Australian government to get a fake trademark that hasn’t even been certified”.

“Again I would just have to object to the way you are characterising the trademark,” she said.

‘State sanctioned greenwashing’

Representatives from the Australia Institute, which has described the government’s response to emissions reduction commitments by corportations as ‘state-sponsored greenwashing’, also gave evidence to the committee on Monday.

Director of the think tank’s Climate and Energy Program Polly Hemming said greenwashing was a symptom of policy failure by state and federal governments.

“The Australian government is actively incentivising greenwashing in Australia because it is cheaper to greenwash than it is to legitimately decarbonise,” Ms Hemming said.

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