JULY 25, 2023
The Victorian Government’s logging agency, VicForests, is under fire for allegations of misleading marketing and state-sponsored greenwashing.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been asked to investigate whether statements on the VicForests website may be false and misleading within the meaning of sections 18 and 29 of Australian Consumer Law.
The ACCC defines greenwashing as “falsely promoting environmental or green credentials to capitalise on these consumer preferences.”
The ACCC has announced that greenwashing will be a top enforcement priority for the second year running as consumers become more environmentally conscious and likely to rely on environmental claims.
Lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia have filed an ACCC complaint on behalf of the Victorian Forest Alliance (VFA), which represents 30 grassroots community groups.
The VFA is concerned that the statements falsely suggest that the agency’s logging of forests is ‘sustainable’. This is despite overwhelming evidence that their logging devastates forests, kills threatened wildlife, degrades biodiversity, and makes forests more vulnerable to frequent and intense bushfires.
The ACCC has also been asked to investigate inaccurate claims about the impacts of logging on carbon stores in forests, as well as spurious claims that VicForests conducts adequate surveys for threatened and endangered species prior to logging.
In particular, the surveying claims on VicForests’ website appear to be inconsistent with the Federal Court and the recent Victorian Supreme Court findings against the logging agency.
Despite the end of native forest logging in Victoria, VicForests recently announced the addition of 184 new coupes in its Timber Release Plan to ‘allow for flexibility’.
More than 65,000 hectares of public land is also still on the chopping block beyond 1 January 2024, with logging centred around Benalla, Mansfield, Bendigo, Central and East Gippsland, the Mid-Murray and Western Victoria.
VicForests has been denied membership with the Forest Stewardship Council, which is the “most-trusted” international forest certification scheme.
In November 2022, VicForests was found to have been logging in breach of environmental protections in a landmark court win by Environment East Gippsland and Kinglake Friends of the Forest.
Chris Schuringa, Campaign Coordindator, Victorian Forest Alliance, said:
“VicForests tell the marketplace that it’s clean and ‘green’, when it’s destroying the habitat of endangered wildlife.
A Victorian government agency is deliberately misleading Victorians about the true cost of its industrial logging operations.
This is a clear example where consumers can no longer trust sustainability claims – they are, literally, not worth the paper they are printed on."
Jill Redwood, Coordinator, Environment East Gippsland, said:
“VicForests has had decades to clean up both its credibility and its logging methods. Instead, it has doubled down on its grubby and misleading tactics.
A logging agency claiming to be green is just classic spin doctoring.
VicForests has been subsidised with public money while peddling deception for decades. It’s time for the government to be honest and accurate about what’s really happening to Victoria’s forests."
Natalie Hogan, Lawyer, Environmental Justice Australia said:
“Successive court rulings have found that VicForests practices have failed to protect endangered species and it’s logging seriously threatens the State’s environment.
It’s difficult to understand how any claims about sustainable logging are consistent with what the Courts have repeatedly found.
Companies, including major supermarkets, should think long and hard about the brands they want to be associated with because the public has had enough of greenwashing.
This level of spin doctoring and corporate marketing is completely unpalatable and unconscionable."