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Brewer accused of eco-credential ‘green washing’

By Neil Merrett , 25-Aug-2008

The fledgling market for environmentally friendly beer is becoming increasingly susceptible to allegations of false advertising, amidst further claims this week of corporate ‘greenwashing’ within the beverage industry.

Coopers Brewery, an Australian group that claims to produce the country’s ‘greenest beer’, is facing a challenge on some of its promotions following a complaint to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), news reports have said.

A number of brewers like SABMiller are attempting to follow in the footsteps of soft drink makers by playing up their sustainable production efforts, particularly in Australia where major players like Foster’s are entering into a new segment for so-called ‘green beer’.

However, the switch to eco-friendly practices has not been entirely smooth for manufacturers, as companies such as UK-based drink maker Innocent come under attack from environmental groups claiming some of their environmental promotions are misleading.

It in this environment that Coopers has come under attack for making green claims about its production operations, with consumer advocacy group Choice allegedly reporting the company to the ACCC, reports The Age newspaper.

On Choice’s website, the group said that it welcomed Cooper’s commitment to the environment on adopting best practice for water and energy use, but claimed the company was not able to provide evidence of its green focus.

“Admirably, Coopers generates its own electricity onsite, has water recycling facilities, and avoids additives and preservatives,” Choice stated on its website. “The trouble is, Coopers doesn’t provide the reassurance of third-party certification, or support its claims with much evidence.”

The brewer was itself unavailable for comment at the time of publication, but claimed on its website to have adopted ‘state-of-the-art equipment and practices’ in the field of energy recovery and water usage at its sites.

“Coopers is a signatory to the Federal Government's Greenhouse Challenge and to the National Packaging Covenant, which seeks to promote consumer responsibilities,” the company stated.

Drink maker ‘greenwashing’

The term Greenwashing has been coined to define the practice of marketing that misleads consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or a product.

Validity of the term has been boosted by almost a decade long presence in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Ed Gillespie, creative director for communications group Futerra, said that ‘greenwashing’ has become an increasing problem in advertising, with complaints made to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) doubling this last year.

However, as an overall sector, Gillespie said that drink makers appeared to be receiving less criticism for the practice than energy suppliers or carmakers. He added that drink makers wishing to avoid being accused of misleading consumers should avoid using unspecific words or terminology like eco friendly on their products, while also obtaining respected certification for their claims.

Brewers’ eco battle

The complaints against drink makers and brewers over allegations of misleading consumers of their green commitments appear to come as beer makers increase their efforts on sustainable production.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told BeverageDaily.com earlier this year that brewers were increasingly following the examples set by other beverage manufacturers in cutting down on the environmental impacts of their production cycles.

Dax Lovegrove, WWF's head of business and industry relations, claimed that while there has been more pressure on manufacturers of highly recognisable soft drink brands to ensure sustainable practices, most brewers now realise the importance of environmentally friendly manufacture.

"Climate change alone exacerbates a number of problems currently facing beer making," he said. "Water use in particular is a major threat, especially for brewers in dry regions, who are more reliant on a sustainable supply of the resource."

Lovegrove stressed that while more needed to be done by the industry to cut energy use and carbon dioxide (CO2) output wherever possible, brewers were showing some initiative in meeting environmental concerns.