Competition Bureau probing alleged ‘greenwashing’ by gas association

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Complaint alleges representations by the Canadian Gas Association that natural gas is ‘clean’ were false and misleading

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The Competition Bureau has opened an inquiry into allegations of “greenwashing” by the Canadian Gas Association after receiving a complaint in September from a group of doctors, nurses and public health advocates. 

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The inquiry concerns representations about natural gas made through the association’s “Fuelling Canada” advertising campaign as well as other representations made to the public outside this campaign, according to a Nov. 4 letter sent to the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) by Josephine A.L. Palumbo, deputy commissioner in the competition authority’s cartels and deceptive marketing practices branch.

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The complaint alleged representations by the Canadian Gas Association that natural gas is “clean” were false and misleading, as were claims that methane gas is more affordable than other home energy systems.

“When properly accounted for, ‘natural’ gas has comparable greenhouse gas emissions to coal, in part because methane, the main ingredient in ‘natural’ gas, has up to 80 times the climate-warming potential of carbon dioxide,” CAPE claimed in a statement Thursday.

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“The extraction and production of gas also pollutes the air and contaminates water sources, while closer to home, gas appliances cause indoor air pollution and pose a serious health risk for children’s respiratory health.”

Late Thursday, the Canadian Gas Association said it was informed by the Competition Bureau on Nov. 4 that an inquiry had been opened related to messaging around natural gas.

In an emailed statement, Timothy M. Egan, chief executive of the CGA, said the association plans to cooperate and is confident in its position.

“Natural gas plays an important part in Canada’s energy mix, meeting 38 per cent of Canadians’ energy needs, a number that is growing,”  he said.

“Canadians need access to energy they can count on, and natural gas meets that need.” 

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Marie-Christine Vézina, a spokesperson for the Competition Bureau confirmed the watchdog “has launched an investigation into the Canadian Gas Association’s alleged deceptive marketing practices“ after receiving an application, and said the Competition Act obligates the Bureau to launch a formal investigation to determine the facts as long as such an application meets technical requirements. 

As the Bureau is obligated by law to conduct its work confidentially, we cannot provide any further details related to this matter,” she said in an email.

Greenwashing, in which environmental claims are not backed by substantial action, came under fire this week from Catherine Mckenna, Canada’s former minister of environment and climate change, at this week’s COP27 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

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As chair of a UN expert group focused on net zero, McKenna laid out expectations for governments and companies and said it’s “time to draw a red line” around greenwashing.

“Too many of these net-zero pledges represent little more than empty slogans and hype,” she told the Canadian Press.

This is the second probe Canada’s Competition Bureau has opened into complaints about greenwashing.

Royal Bank of Canada is facing a probe following a complaint last summer by a handful of individuals backed by environmental groups. The complaint said the bank’s claims of being a climate leader were misleading because it continued to finance fossil fuel projects.

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Groups making claims of greenwashing have scored some recent victories.

In October, HSBC Holdings PLC, one of the world’s largest banks, was forbidden from showing ads it had created when the United Kingdom’s marketing authority agreed with complaints they were “misleading” about the financial institution’s efforts to tackle climate change. In its first finding of greenwashing, The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that HSBC “omitted material information” about its activities, which include financing businesses that contribute to carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions.

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