Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment
Fisherville, Ontario, Canada
Tel. 416 410-0432, Fax: 416 362-5231
Vol. 13, No. 3, April 7, 2008
Honoured Reader's Edition

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For several years the Competition Bureau, an arm’s length agency of Industry Canada responsible for enforcing Canada’s truth in labelling and advertising laws, has been making noises about cracking down on misleading green advertising. In March 2007, the Bureau circulated a draft guidance document describing the new rules. In some ways the new document was not too different from the old document, Principles and Guidelines for Environmental Labelling and Advertising, published in 1993, but in other ways it would tighten the rules so much that they would become a major deterrent to environmental labelling and marketing of green products. CIAL, the parent company of Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment, does not see this as helpful and along with other companies and several other industry groups submitted comments to the Competition Bureau. Typically, there has been very little subsequent consultation and rumours now suggest that the Competition Bureau will come out with new rules by the end of this month. We summarize the activity in this issue of GL and will report on the new rules when they appear.

In anticipation of the government action, Gallon Letter has decided to devote most of this issue to a review of environmental marketing activity from Canada and some of the rest of the world. Our approach contains advice and information from numerous sources which we hope will be of interest to consumers as well as to green marketers. Our review of Dr. Frank-Martin Belz’ commentary on Sustainability Marketing, while longer than most GL articles, represents, in GL’s opinion, some of the most leading edge analysis of environmental marketing. We also bring you a section from the Canadian Green Marketing Handbook of 1991 - as valuable a read today for companies planning to introduce green products as it was back then. Take a look at UNEP’s Creative Gallery on Sustainability Communications - a real indication that some companies, few of them Canadian, are learning how to market the “Buy Less” message.

Another good tool for consumer activists and product marketers is the OECD review of Promoting Sustainable Consumption: Good Practices in OECD Countries. We bring you a summary.

As usual we bring some news and commentary on current events in the field of environment and sustainable development. Some environmental groups have published a new report entitled Tomorrow Today, not quite as visionary as one might have hoped; a very credible group called Resource Efficient Agricultural Production has advised Parliament of the environmental risks associated with biofuels; the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has prepared his annual report, which is about as depressing as one might imagine; some groups are claiming a huge victory over Imperial Oil’s proposed oil sands development, and the federal government may not have wanted you to know about climate change adaptation but fortunately the CBC received a leaked version of the report. Thank heavens for brown envelopes and let’s applaud the bureaucrats willing to provide them - after all, the work is being done with our tax dollars. This issue concludes with a strange story brought forward (to GL) by the Obama NAFTA controversy.

Earth Day always brings a glut of green magazines and other environmental marketing initiatives. In our next issue we plan to look at what the magazines and marketers are doing for Earth Day 2008. In the near future we will also be updating our coverage of climate change initiatives and concluding our feature on asbestos. We continue to welcome your feedback and comments.

Competition Bureau. Public Comments: Responses to: Competition Bureau Seeks Comments on Environmental Claims Publication. 2007. [Find Contemporary Information Analysis Limited] or
[Find News and Resources, Click; Find Public Comment, Click; Find Environmental and then Responses, Click]


It was fascinating to sit in the audience of a recent industry workshop and to see a panel of six senior executives from large and small companies in a subsector of the plastics industry unanimously urge environmental regulations to address a perceived marketplace problem. It is not too many years ago that industry would do everything it could to ensure that government did not bring in new government regulations. At the same time as industry is now demanding more regulations, GL’s editor and a significant number of people in the environmental community are beginning to recognize that regulations are often not the best way to go. Regulations, at least conventional “command and control” regulations of the kind these six executives were seeking, can limit innovation, harm Canada’s competitiveness, are often end-run by companies who have more smarts than the writers of the regulations, and are almost always poorly enforced by governments.

So what is causing this situation where industry is asking for regulations and at least some environmentalists are becoming wary of regulations? The easy answer is that both industry and environmentalists know that the present federal government will probably only introduce legislation and regulations that are so friendly to business as to provide little environmental benefit. However, that analysis may be too simplistic to explain the rush to asking for environmental regulations that seems to be permeating much of Canada’s private sector.

Most companies, including some that market greener products, still view environment as a cost. If you see it as a cost, rather than as an opportunity to increase market share, then the idea of having government regulate the marketplace might be reasonable. The problem is that companies in other countries may not be similarly constrained and the opportunity for Canadian products to penetrate international markets may be lost.

Many companies and trade associations are not politically astute and do not take into account the long-term business impact of the regulations that they are asking the government to introduce. The regulation that looks good today may be hopelessly out of date in 12 months time and may limit the opportunity to bring new and better products to market.

The concept of competition based on environmental performance has still only permeated some boardrooms of Canadian companies. GL believes that the environmental marketplace will begin to achieve at a high level of performance only when numerous companies are competing to be the greenest. Those who are not sure they can compete in such a green marketplace, even though they may be offering green products today, are eager to have the government make sure that Canada’s economy never really goes green.

Many corporate decision-makers and investors think very short-term, often not much beyond the next quarter and very rarely beyond the next year or two. Building a green company and a suite of green products is a long term initiative that requires vision and continuous improvement. Few Canadian companies are looking for a sustainable position in the ten to twenty year time horizon.

There is no doubt that the marketplace needs a degree of regulation but that regulation should be performance-based, encouraging to environmental performance, rather than command and control, which almost inevitably limits innovation. Corporate government relations professionals, and their consultants, might make a start by increasing their environmental literacy and by conducting an economic and environmental analysis of the regulations they are advocating. If Canada is to develop a green economy, our business leaders need to recognize that green business is about entrepreneurship, not government regulation.

Colin Isaacs


A recent opinion piece in the UK newspaper, The Observer, told the story of a visit of the late Lord Alexander of Weedon, then president of the bank NatWest, visiting Karl Otto-Poehl, president of the Bundesbank. The British banker was carrying a newspaper with the headline, “Good news - another rise in house prices”. The German banker responded “Over here, that would be bad news.” Green marketing seems to generate the same mix of reactions.

The trend towards more green marketing is very good news indeed from the point of view of GL’s editor, who has been pushing for greening efforts for the past couple of decades. After a high of environmental interest in the early 1990s, both interest and market died back, especially in Canada, but not quite back to the previous low level. Since the early 1990's progress towards a green economy has mostly been one step forward and somewhere between 0.9 and 0.99 steps back.

Environmental marketing is essential to changing behaviour towards sustainable consumption. However, for some, environmental marketing is seen as bad news, said to be deceiving consumers and other buyers. GL is sure that no matter what rule is made, some will find a way around it to their benefit and to the detriment of the society including in green marketing. But in every sector, wherever there is money, there are both opportunism and corruption as revealed by the damage done to the global economy by the highly speculative, wild and opaque mortgage transactions of the financial sector. Environmental marketing should be held accountable for truthfulness just as all other marketing should. However, indiscriminate criticism of green marketing by labelling practically all green marketing "greenwash", without reasonable and transparent analysis, sends a message to business that green marketing is dangerous. It also sends a message to consumers and purchasers that green buying is useless, clearly the wrong message when even small changes by many people can have significant environment benefits. Higher profits for vendors who environmentally improve their products and processes is also criticized but this is an economic signal that better for the environment is better for the bottom line and for society. Green products/services and their marketing are only a small step but serve to connect the end user with the other greening initiatives such as product stewardship, green chemistry, energy efficiency, recycling, and pollution prevention. A State of California agency advises, "If you are not buying recycled products, you are not recycling."

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


The Post-Globe event held by the Ontario Environment Industry Association on March 17 was attended by government officials, international delegations who were also at Globe in Vancouver, and by Ontario environment industry people. GL's editor was a speaker there and was interviewed by a couple of Chinese journalists. One of them made the comment that Canada claims to have environmental initiatives but the hotels they have stayed in don't even use energy efficient lightbulbs whereas in China every hotel does. GL notes that China's environmental problems are very serious and lightbulbs in themselves are only a small part of a solution but those Chinese visitors are exactly right by observing the relatively low level use of green products where one would expect to see them in a country purporting some environmental leadership.


Dr. Frank-Martin Belz, Technical University of Munich (TUM) Business School has written about what he calls sustainability marketing. In 2005, he gave a seminar in English to doctorate candidates at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. He has written and spoken on the same topic and is one of the contributors to a new book by Greenleaf Publishing.
One of the discussion papers for the seminar outlines the Janus-like nature of sustainablity marketing. On one hand, in a world where population could be 9 billion by 2050, marketing is negative because it helps to promote consumerism, materialism and other aspects of lifestyles that harm both social and natural environments. On the other, marketing can support innovations such as solar houses, organic food, fair trade products, and hybrid cars.

Conventional and Sustainability Marketing

Sustainability relates to the concept of sustainable development which the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) described as development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs on three elements: environmental, social and economic. The idea embraces equity within generations such as between North and South as well as between generations.

Belz says people shouldn't misunderstand sustainable development as harmony; there are bound to be conflicts, difficult decisions, trade-offs and no business function reveals that more than in marketing. Marketing is about building long-term customer relations which involves analysing customer needs and wants, developing products with superior value, and pricing, distributing and promoting products to the target groups; attracting new customers and keeping the current ones satisfied. Marketing is intended to increase sales and profits.

Sustainability marketing also analyses customer needs and wants but develops sustainable products with superior value and pricing, distributing and promoting them to the target groups while integrating social and environmental aspects. If sustainable products and services are to make a difference, marketing must succeed at generating sales beyond the niche market into the mainstream. Green marketing, eco-marketing and environmental marketing may focus more on the environment without the social aspects. Corporate social responsibility may be sustainability marketing but here the link to the customer is often weak and CSR is usually not focussed on delivery of value to customers but may be needed to protect the company's reputation or brand so it can sell sustainable products.


Belz outlines a six-step concept for sustainability marketing including:
Focus on Resources/Waste/Pollution

Human Impact is expressed by the IPAT formula: Human Impact = P x A x T
P - earth's total population A - each person's consumption units T = how many resources are used and waste/pollution produced for each unit of consumption.

Although sometimes sustainability marketing lead to reducing A consumption (less material, more sustainable living) sustainability marketing is mostly related to T, reducing the resources and waste, for example by increasing energy efficiency. This type of marketing is not suitable for dealing with P, the world's population.

Basic human needs include food, clothing, shelter, warmth and safety, sense of belonging, individual need for self-expression and knowledge. The needs may lead to wants, for example the need for food can be met by tofu, truffles or turkey, each which may have a different social/environmental impact. Wants are influenced by society and the individual (and perhaps marketing) and if people have money, they can fulfil their needs and wants by creating a market demand which in industrialized countries uses large amounts of energy and materials, which have large impacts on the environment.

The lifecycle of the product from cradle to grave needs to be taken into account: from raw material extraction, transport, production, use, recycling-reuse, and end-of-life disposal. Computers, brick buildings, coffee, cotton, plastics have different life cycles and impacts, with some high, medium and low impacts at different points and effects on water, air, ecosystem, health etc. Environmental problems may be global, regional or local.

Consumer Behaviour

Consumers play a crucial role at the purchase, use and post-use stage of products. Belz provides an a flow chart contrasting the type of questions a conventional consumer asks versus a consumer interested in sustainable consumption. Step 1: Need recognition - What do I want? vs Do I really need it? Step 2: Information Search - Where is my list of prices vs Where is my sustainable consumer guide? with Step 5: Post purchase behaviour: When shall I buy a new one? vs How long can I make it last?
For value, the consumer often perceives four types of product benefits: 1. the basic product function 2. self-esteem 3. recognition and 4. satisfaction of gaining and sharing knowledge/expertise/doing it yourself.
Only a relatively small group of consumers perceive all four product benefits in sustainable products. A somewhat larger group associate social and environmental products with some self-esteem and recognition and are willing to compromise on the price but not on what they perceive as quality associated with the product. But the third and largest group, the average consumer, don't see any value in sustainable products and will not accept any compromise on price or performance.

Consumers tend not to have a consistent approach to social and environmental issues but pick and choose depending on the product and context. A person who buys organic food may not give any thought to the social/environmental impact of their car or holidays. Belz states, "Marketing sustainable products successfully means taking all benefits and costs from the customer’s point of view into account. If sustainable products have a higher perceived value than conventional products, they will be bought and used."

Three qualities are part of the product: search, experience and credence. Search is what the consumer can check, for example colour and price of a shirt. Experience is what the consumer sees in use, for example durability of the fabric colour after washing. Credence is the trust the consumer has due to the company or third party verification which means that credibility, reputation and trust are important to the success of sustainable products. Labels such as eco-labels, product directories by NGOs and other assurances help to establish credibility.

Market Segmentation

The trend in recent years has been much more segmented with consumers demanding low prices for good value but willing to pay premium prices for high quality. A consumer who seeks lowest cost food may buy a luxury car or even go out to dinner at an expensive restaurant. Products in the upper or lower price markets may survive better than products in the middle. Polarization in the market is producing segments which seem contradictory e.g. organic ready-made meals: these represent demands for natural combined with convenience. In order to gain enough access to the market, medium and large companies which cannot survive serving too small a niche market, must appeal to a broader range. This often means multi-branding e.g. Migros in Switzerland sells M-Bio for the premium, high standards certified organic products and also M-Budget which fulfill some social/environmental standards but not as high and sells for a lower price. Other grocery stores may sell some fish with the Marine Stewardship Council label (from sustainable fisheries) while also selling retail brands. Pressure from NGOs led Ikea, the Swedish furniture retailer and H&M, the Swedish textile retailer to improve their sourcing and manufacturing to maintain their brand image.

Market Timing

Companies need to evaluate if they want to be market leaders which means being early in the introduction of products, which means the products may not be as environmentally advanced or the company has to do a lot more legwork to educate the customer. If a company enters later, more effort may be needed to compete against the leading company which may have gained a bigger market share. Toyota is an example of a pioneering strategy with its introduction of the Prius.

Relative Positioning of Sustainable Products

Belz states that "Sustainable products have higher socio-ecological efficiency than other products in the same category. By definition, sustainable products are not absolute, but relative measures in dependence on the status of knowledge, latest technologies and societal aspirations, which change over time. A product, that meets the highest social and environmental standards today, may be considered normal or even outdated tomorrow."

Social and ecological claims need to be credible and deliver a perceived value to the customer. Pricing of sustainable products is not doomed to be higher, for example a German company offers wooden energy-efficient homes at reasonable prices ("more for the same") having cut costs with industrially produced components.

The difficulty is what Belz calls getting "the right balance between information and animation" as too much information can discourage attention and too little undermine credibility. Options may include ads which highlight emotion or a sense of fun and engagement or leaving out the heavy duty environment message from ads all together but including them in public relations efforts.

Distribution is also essential for example by making products available where the target group is most likely to be. If there is no connection between the consumers who want to buy and the product, there is no market. One example of distribution is at sustainability centres where shops which sell organic food are close by to fair trade clothing stores, repair services, and car share pool. (GL notes that the Carrot Commons in Toronto is an example).
NGOs Often Opposed to Green Marketing

The intersection of socio-ecological problems with the needs and wants of consumers is crucial. Belz says, "Social activists with big hearts put a strong emphasis on the solution of socio-ecological problems, but widely neglect consumer wants and demand. They follow a kind of anti-marketing or alternative marketing approach. Mainstream marketing mainly focuses on consumer demand overlooking the social and ecological environments. Sustainability marketing tries to find solutions to the socio-ecological problems and at the same time meet customers demand."


The consumers have to believe that the products and services are better but if they do, then the demand leaves the door open for opportunism by producers which leads to a decline of trust and market failure. At the same time, there is little push on either vendors or the consumers to adopt a sustainable approach so more effort is needed by governments, non-government organizations and companies. Marketing tends to be short-term but sustainability marketing is long term so it needs a fundamental shift in thinking.

Belz is also the author of Chapter Seven 7 Marketing in the age of Sustainable Development in a new Greenleaf Publishing book released March 4. System Innovation for Sustainability 1: Perspectives on Radical Changes to Sustainable Consumption and Production.

System Innovation for Sustainability 1: Perspectives on Radical Changes to Sustainable Consumption and Production. Edited by Arnold Tukker, Martin Charter, Carlo Vezzoli, Eivind Stø and Maj Munch Andersen. March 2008 x + 470 pp 234 x 156 mm hardback ISBN 978-1-906093-03-7 £50.00 [The preface and Chapter 1 are available for free download. Individual chapters can also be bought online.]


These days it seems like deja vu all over again. GL's editor has always maintained that credibility is essential. He was among the first in the late 1980s to write about the "Biodegradable Myth" criticizing the biodegradability claim of plastics of those days which didn't degrade but broke down into small plastic pieces. Those claims were found in a number of cases in the 1990s prosecuted by the US Federal Trade Commission to be misleading.

Companies starting out in greening often do it backwards: they have a product and then they ask for third party review or certification of the environmental characteristics. Occasionally, if they are well-informed about the environment and their product, this can work but usually it is best to design the product or service for the environmental improvement: this puts the environment ahead of the marketing. After that, it is best not to give the marketing department a free hand without some oversight by the environment department or advisor. A surprising number of eco-entrepreneurs think products can be reviewed just by looking at the container, technology or reading a product literature brochure or web site.

As part of the Canadian Green Marketing Handbook in the early 1990s, GL's editor wrote the Colin Isaacs Report with advice:
Green marketing provides a real opportunity for the environment and business, but it will only succeed if it is done properly. Checklists of green marketing advice are becoming more common:
Governments are learning that they cannot command and control everything: they are beginning to understand sustainable development and they will learn that the green company and the green products needs much less of their attention than the environmentally unsound product produced in the old polluting mill. I wish green companies everywhere every possible success. Our environment demands it.
GL thinks editor must have been a bit optimistic in that last paragraph but agrees with the last sentence.

Isaacs, Colin. A Business Consultant's Perspective in The Colin Isaacs Report. The Canadian Green Marketing Handbook. Executive Editor: Michael J. Meagher and Ian Rhind. Don Mills, Ontario: Southam Business Communications Inc. Don Mills, Ontario: 1991. [binder]


A number of sites have set up RSS feeds, blogs and stories specifically on Greenwash listing specific ads which readers are invited to rate or discuss. The majority of respondents tend to take the view that it is all "green lies" although there are sometimes responses from people who say at least the product/action is better than the alternative.

The Public Insight Network says it is "on the hunt for greenwash" with "handpicked environmental professionals" making up the Greenwash Brigade. Some of the Green Brigade have interests of their own such as consultants on green design. The web site has ads such as self-published manuscripts. Examples of discussion include:
Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


The green claims in ISO 14021 (Self-declared environmental claims Type II) cover terms such as: compostable, degradable, designed for disassembly, extended life product, recovered energy, recyclable, recycled content, pre-consumer material, post-consumer, recycled material, recovered (reclaimed material), refillable, -free (of certain substances), reduced resource use, reduced energy consumption, reduced water use and waste reduction. The Competition Bureau has consulted on using an interpretation of this standard for its guideline: Environmental claims: A guide for industry and advertisers. The final is rumoured to be coming out soon. If the Bureau has not taken into account the concerns expressed about the bureaucracy of labelling e.g. listing individual cities where an item may be recyclable, a situation constantly changing and increasing the price of labelling or confidentiality about proprietary ingredients, the final standard may set back environmental marketing in this country. At any rate, GL recommends that the first enforcement action under the new standard be the Canadian nuclear industry which uses the image of the blue sky with the word Clean clearly in violation of the general requirement that the environmental claim should be relevant to that particular product which surely has to be toxic waste.

The specific claims can be helpful in informing consumers but if there is heightened enforcement, vendors are more likely to move towards vaguer claims about which there might be debate about whether it fits into the standard. An example is an ad about fuel efficiency which makes no specific claim about the degree of fuel efficiency but shows drivers making mistakes about which side of the car has the fill-up cap because they fill up so rarely.  

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.

The marketplace is full of conventional ads which, if measured against the same detailed standards which green claims already have established for them in both Europe and North America, wouldn't pass. Where are the similar standards for ads which show clothing that comes from the North Pole at Christmas time, soft drinks that keep you young forever, skin creams that are anti-aging (even if with a disclaimer of only giving the appearance of filling in wrinkles), by refrigerators with its key feature the height of its water dispenser, houses in the middle of a development with a "lake view" and only "35 minutes from City X", cars that move by bouncing over congestion and similar ads that consumers are exposed to each and every day.

Whatever type of product, there is always a need for a level of consumer protection. This should be addressed by requiring all to meet a standard whether green or not. So if it is important that consumers know what ingredients are in their cleaning products, let's make disclosure rules for all cleaning products. If the term "friendly" as in environmentally-friendly is governed as it is by a standard that requires an explanation and supporting evidence of what makes it "friendly", then let's require that all "friendly" claims require an explanation such as "People-friendly" data systems, "customer-friendly" banks, "pet friendly" hotels, "Future Friendly® -Telus, and so on. If green product sellers have to jump through too many more hoops than their conventional competitors, then it becomes more costly and more risky to reputation if a regulator should find for infringement of a technical interpretation.

hose who argue that credibility is more important for green products than for advertising other products are choosing to ignore the environmental impacts of the majority of products and services. On balance, slightly more disincentives in the way of proof should be on the "brown" products, those with more environmental impacts rather than on the green products. GL's position is that green products should not get special attention for enforcement but their fair share. It's analogous to catching speeders: it's fair game for the police to stop speeders and you don't get to say, "why didn't you catch the other speeders on the road." However, if the police select only those of visible minorities to stop than it does become an issue for public debate. Or maybe the analogy should be that the cops stop only those who drive a Prius or a Smart Car.

Science and the Q-ray

The need for proof should apply to all claims. An example of an enforcement action against a non-green product is the US Federal Trade Commission charges against the Q-Ray bracelet launched in 2003. The FTC has won in the US Court of Appeals charging misleading claims of the Q-Ray Bracelet which promised pain relief, success, and just about everything from bioenergy, ionization, and other ridiculousness always somewhat vagure and promoted through television infomercials and web sites. The FTC ruling means the company has to pay $15.9 million in net profits and up to $87 million in refunds to consumers. In response to the defendants claiming that the standard of proof for the therapeutic claims was too high, the judge said that the claims must be based on science, "proof is what separates an effect new to science from a swindle." The court called the "tests" the defendants submitted "bunk", the testimonials useless and the idea that their product served a useful purpose through the placebo effect a tall tale which has no place in law because the FTC lacks "an exception for beneficial deceit." GL has seen the Q-Ray ad on television April 2 so it looks like Canada has not taken similar steps. The Q-Ray defendants are (surprise!) in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States.

Chimney Claims: Insufficient Proof

A recent case of requiring the same proof for both green and non-green labelling is illustrated by one case recently won in court by the Competition Bureau. The claims were for chimney cleaning and creosote conditioner products by Imperial Manufacturing Group sold at major home hardware and retail stores. Among the claims were:
The Competition Bureau’s position that the claims were not supported by adequate tests held in a court challenge. The label has to be withdrawn and the company has to pay a penalty of $25,000. GL’s editor advises against the use of terms such as “safe” and “non-toxic” even if the product is of low toxicity. Non-food products should have use and handling instructions and that should include keeping these out of the reach of children and pets and avoiding accidental contact with food or ingestion. (see separate article).

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


Environmental marketing often promotes products with green features which may range from a single attribute to multiple attributes. Many of those making greenwash allegations voice concerns about the labels associated with these products. Consider for the next few paragraphs that GL is discussing products where the retailer/distributor/manufacturer/raw material producers in the chain have made a genuine effort, have researched the ingredients and attributes and have done as good job as a reasonable informed person might accept to match the claim with the perceived environmental improvement. Still some may have different expectations: questions arise and need to be answered. An example is:

GL: A green cleaning product isn't food. Ingredients for green cleaning products including those certified in third party eco-labels such as Ecologo are chosen for lower environmental and health impacts, not no impacts. There is surprising variability how third party ecolabels deal with chemicals in products. Some allow only specific trademarked names which are approved by the certifier one by one. Others list only a few restricted chemicals by name or category of chemicals such as certain kinds of dyes but set standards for toxicity, aquatic biodegradation, lack of persistence and so on of the product as a whole. Some chemicals such as preservatives/biocides which are needed to make sure the product doesn't go mouldy are by definition very toxic. These are often mandated by law and approved for certification as long as they are used in very small volume.

Ecover, with headquarters near Antwerp Belgium 1980, pioneered phosphate-free laundry detergent in the 1980 even though phosphates hadn't become the environmental issue they became. In 1993 the company was awarded the United Nations Environment Program Global 500 Roll of Honour. The company has an integrated environmental policy and an ecological factory with a green roof, bricks made from coal waste and wood from sustainable forests.

The Ecover hand dish detergent which GL has on hand is labelled with "The power of nature", "ecological dishwashing liquid", "gentle herbal formula with chamomile and marigold", "gentle on your hands", "no chemical residues" and so on. Yet it also contains the advice "Always keep your washing and cleaning products out of children's reach." The Ecover "Natural" Toilet Bowl Cleaner which is labelled with "biodegradable in 3 to 5 days", "safest ingredients", "ecological factory", "toxin free ingredients", "made for refill" and more has the warning labels: "CAUTION: keep out of reach of children" and "Caution: Eye Irritant" with instruction on what to do in case of eye contact or swallowing: get medical attention. Although the Ecover label says that all ingredients are disclosed, the actual label does not list the names of the particular surfactants, the most chemically active ingredients used but rather categories such as anionic and non-ionic surfactants (plant-based). This would be like ingredient labelling a tomato sauce with “food” rather than “tomatoes”.

In order for green products to attract the wider audience needed to really change the mass marketplace means that the products must work without the consumer having to use half the bottle where a few drops should do in conventional products. Some people are happy with baking soda and vinegar but for those who would buy more environmentally harmful products, the green alternatives on offer are a better choice.

Note: GL's editor advises on the Loblaw's PC GREEN products and uses this Ecover example because the Ecover brand has been on the market here in Canada for a long time and is admired by environmentally aware consumers.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


Environmental marketing of products gets easier if the government shows supports it rather than just showing suspicion (not that GL would ever suggest we ought to give up on scepticism entirely). The UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) promotes the European Ecolabel (The Flower) on its web site explaining how the label works and its benefits " Products with the Ecolabel are independently certified to prove that they are greener, and that they perform as well as other leading brands." But the UK web site also encourages companies who "want to make the most of their product's green credentials" as well as "the firms' own green achievements" in the marketplace. The government view of voluntary labels is that "Green claims are a recognised way for companies to explain the environmental credentials of a product, though they are not usually labels in the sense of having a recognised logo (though some large companies do use their own labelling schemes, with logos). The Government and other bodies have issued advice on the best ways of making such claims."

The information includes:
The 17-page paper is also lists other aspects such as green claims without an official green label, environmental policy, environment management systems, lists of business and product award schemes, green media, incorporating green into operations e.g. environmentally responsible paper (e.g EcoLabel or Forest Stewardship Council) for corporate stationary, driving green with green fleet, and green events. Although some of the discussion is specific to Britain, most of the paper is as good advice from government as GL has seen in a while. Its tone of green claims is supportive while at the same time issuing cautions and it's writing style is peculiarly ungovernmental. For example, it suggests, "Please … keep it factual, and don’t overstate your case. It’s better not to imply that your competitors are evil maniacs bent on contaminating the globe, because (a) they’re not, and (b) they may complain to the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA gets many complaints by other manufacturers about competitors’ advertising that goes way over the top, with the result that expensive advertisements sometimes have to be withdrawn."

This paper is quite a contrast to what has happened in Canada recently where Environment Canada's licensee for the ecolabel Environmental Choice launched a so-far-unsubstantiated attack on all green products sold in the mass market. Ironically, the licensee is unwilling to share any information with the public which would support its claim at the same time it is demanding transparency from others. Over generalization is bad both ways: when those who sell products with green claims exaggerate and when those who criticize green products dismiss genuine environmental initiatives without adequate information.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority reviews complaints received about advertisements. The ASA is an independent body set up by the advertising industry to police the rules in the advertising codes which include an environmental one. Sometimes the complaints are from competitors, consumers and consumer and environmental groups. Each week decisions are released about investigations and either upheld or not, in whole or in part; if the ad is not upheld, the company has to change or remove the ad. The ASA also has an advisory service for companies to get advice on how to ensure their ads conform to the codes and specific advice is also posted on the website, for example, Environmental claims on Aviation.

In 2007, a complaint was received about the Toyota Prius ad which made the claim, "What if all cars were like the Prius, with its hybrid synergy drive technology, it emits up to one tonne less CO2 per year" based on an average driving of 20,000 km per year. Toyota Prius: CO2 emissions: 104g/km. Toyota provided its calculations and assumptions and said the "up to" was to account for possible differences. But the ASA wouldn't accept the calculations because while in the US the average distance driven is 20,000 km, in the UK the average is only 13,440 km. Also Toyoto had only compared to a few cars not all the similar sized cars registered in the year of the complaint (2005). The complaint was upheld and the ad had to be withdrawn.

It seems to GL that the penalty is very high compared to what polluters commonly pay: a television ad can cost multi-millions of dollars. The Prius is not perfect but it is one of the best automobile technologies introduced lately. Would it be unreasonable to allocate some points for environmental performance so that perceived failures in marketing could be offset delaying the pulling of the ad? For example, DuPont and other companies making PFOA, the chemical used in and released from coatings such as Teflon, have been given until 2015 by the US Environmental Protection Agency to voluntarily ensure that the chemical is not released during production or in use of the products.

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Although the UK Advertising Standards Association is receiving an increased number of complaints about green advertising, the rise is still a small proportion of the total number of complaints. According to a UK Guardian newspaper article, in the first quarter of 2007, there were 268 complaints about 200 green ads compared to 62 complaints about 40 green ads in the last quarter of 2006, a small portion of the total complaints. The UK Advertising Standards Authority receives over 20,000 complaints a year and investigates about a quarter of them. Fewer formal investigations are planned in 2008 as more effort is being made to resolve minor and clear cut cases with advertisers directly.

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Although the UK government is supporting green marketing (see separate article), the actual implementation at the retail level is not so significant, or at least not highly visible to the consumer. Marks and Spencers, the clothing and food retailer does about the best in communications to the consumer. In their stores are big panels titled Plan A which describes what the company is doing e.g. sustainable fish purchasing, waste and energy reduction, and sustainable sourcing of raw materials. M&S coffee shops sell fairtrade coffee and tea and the tables are labelled with FSC in the middle of the table top indicating Forest Stewardship Council certified wood. M&S clothing includes organic fairtrade cotton in such products as t-shirts and polyester from post-consumer water and soft drink bottles in trousers. Also M&S talks about how it tests clothing for durability and fade resistance so almost any clothing you buy there is likely to outlast other mass market clothing and stay nice looking longer.
Grocery chains like Tesco have reusable bags and small amount of shelf space for green cleaners although the most visible green product is organic food which is interspersed widely with conventional. There are enough organic food labels that it would be difficult for a shopper to miss. In Tesco, the private cleaning product label is sold next to the Ecover brand. But overall, the impact of the consumer packaging overwhelms some of the other issues even though the stores uses reusable crates for many products. Every vegetable with only some exception is pre-wrapped in plastic; fruits, meats and almost everything else includes a plastic food tray as well as a plastic bag. Because the portions are often smaller than in Canada, if you are buying for more than two people, you get even more waste. In too many homes, there is no plastic recycling of any kind from the home. Although some towns have collection points which include plastic bottle drops, a huge amount of the plastic and mixed packaging such as Tetra paks, yoghurt tubs, and those endless food trays end up in the garbage. On the highways, the litter includes a lot of plastic bags hanging from the roadside shrubs and trees. Quite a few people can be seen to use reusable shopping bags especially now some stores charge extra for the carrier bags. Still with a large population and a habit of going shopping often, sometimes every day, people use a large number of plastic shopping bags.


In the 2007-2008 Report on Plans and Priorities for Environment Canada, $26.5 million (of a total of program funding of $857.8 million) was allocated for "Canadians adopt sustainable consumption and production approaches." The two key aims are:
1. Canadians are informed of environmental pollution and are engaged in measures to address it.
2. Sector-based and other approaches promote sustainable consumption and production.

The key indicators are:
For No. 1 above:
For No. 2 above:
Quality Management System (QMS) to ensure that decision-making under key environmental protection statutes such as CEPA 1999 is as consistent, transparent and predictable as possible.

To GL achieving just those indicators seems like a lot of money to achieve not very much considering the two laudable goals. One would have expected that a Conservative government might have been more interested in efficiency and effectiveness of government spending.

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The United Nations Environment Programme promotes the role of advertising for sustainable consumption with some of the guides for the advertising sector developed in cooperation with the World Business Council on Sustainable Development. The website explains the role of advertising in relation to consumption. Advertising can work against sustainable consumption as it:
A 2005 UNEP report called Communicating Sustainability states that advertising can also promote sustainable consumption by building on growing awareness by people that consumption patterns are hurting the only home we have and that we all have a responsibility to look after it. It is not only what is communicated but how. Then UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer wrote, "[The] traditional messages from governments and green groups urging the public to adopt the environment into their day-to-day decisions need to be overhauled. Many of these messages are simply too patronising, guilt-laden or disapproving. Instead of turning people on to the environment, they risk switching them off. The lesson to be learned is that communication styles have to be positive and tailored to different circumstances and cultural contexts... Advertising should aim to make sustainable lifestyles fashionable and cool." Lucy Shea and Solitaire Townsend of Futerra Sustainability Communications wrote, "At its best, communication has an extraordinary power, not simply to inform, but to challenge, and to inspire. It can achieve lasting and meaningful change. That is why it is vital for communications to be an integral part of the journey towards sustainable development."

Sustainability advertising can have one or more of three objectives: raise awareness, change attitudes and change behaviour.

The Communicating Sustainability guide is based on dispelling myths which include:
Climate change is a particularly difficult message because it still seems a rather vague threat. Fear messages are more likely to generate apathy than action. The case studies in the report are positive messages about living, having fun and enjoying life. For example, Mother Nature is depicted as rewarding recycling.

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The United Nations Environment Programme has an international online database of over 1100 corporate and public advertising campaigns categorized by sustainability themes. Although the ads are not endorsed by UNEP, the aim is to foster more and better communication on sustainability issues. Some of the ads are for green products, some for corporate responsibility. Some are by government, environmental groups or other organizations.
About 150 ads in the Gallery are in the Consumption Patterns theme. They include:
Explanations associated with each ad provide a context, for example Carrefour has been accused of promoting overconsumption and NGOs weren't willing to accept that the ads were accompanied by change at the company.

The website also has a number of other publications on how and why to do sustainable consumption advertising including case studies from Algeria to Vietnam. 
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A new report from the OECD reviews the ways government policies can be used to both stem "the environmental impacts of unsustainable industrial production practices" and to promote sustainable consumption which is "equally important to limit negative environmental and social externalities as well as to provide markets for sustainable products." Sustainable refers to both environmental (waste, pollution, resource and energy use) and to social (health and welfare) characteristics of products. This study focuses on consumption by households and governments. Production is linked to consumption as the product may have environmental/social impacts due to various processes before or after the consumer uses it. Services and goods are covered. Among the most direct government initiatives are public procurement, mandatory labels and standards e.g energy use labels, genetically modified organisms content, and subsidies and incentives. Other initiatives include communication campaigns, education, voluntary labelling, corporate reporting, and advertising. Various policy instruments can be combined but success depends on understanding consumer behaviour.

Communication Campaigns

Environment-friendly purchasing communication campaigns used to be commonly done by governments a decade ago but governments didn't really succeed in changing consumer behaviour towards more sustainable lifestyles; consumers paid a lot more attention to the private sector. Lately the campaigns are using commercial marketing and advertising techniques with longer term efforts. For example, in 2006, France ran a radio and television campaign on climate change and biodiversity with the tagline, "The little things aren't so little if 60 million of us are doing them." Government often offer the idea of small steps to overcome consumer apathy. Japan launched Cool Biz in 2005 encouraging casual clothing and for business persons, no jacket or tie to reduce the need for air conditioning. Food, locally produced and organic as well as fair trade are also more common in Europe with more retailers joining in, offering sales and promoting the products as campaigns continue in the following years.

Mandatory Labels and Standards

Mandatory labels and standards are direct policy tools where government regulates products for environmental/social welfare. Most common are energy standards such as for household appliances, home insulation effectiveness and fuel efficiency in vehicles. Canada's Energy Efficiency Act of 2006 may lead to eventual regulation of 80% of a home's energy-using products. The Marrakech Task Force on Sustainable Products is focussing on energy efficiency standards for lighting, home entertainment products and electric motors through Global Sustainable Product Networks. Computers, standby power, waste and water use and targets for phase-out of least sustainable products in the categories are planned. Many OECD countries but not Canada and the US require labelling of genetically modified organisms GMOs.

Voluntary Labels

Voluntary labels can be single issue labels with a specific environmental or social feature such as organic cotton, dolphin-safe tuna or sustainable forestry or can be multi-criteria labels which compare products on a number of impacts over their lifecycle. Overall, labels have weaknesses including consumer awareness, criteria differences, market competition between the various schemes and technology lock-in by business which limits innovation. Consumer confusion may occur between self-declared and third party certified labels. In some countries, labels have more effects than others, for example the German Blue Angel and the Nordic Swan have high consumer recognition.

Where once labels were primarily environmental, there are more which reflect ethical and social aspects of sustainability, for example the Fairtrade label which now covers 2,000 products. In Switzerland, 47% of the banana market has this label. Rainforest Alliance labelling of forestry, logging, preserving biodiversity and livelihood also has made a difference in consumer choices.
Some labels may be considered barriers to international trade.

Some of the newer labels are more complicated, for example the carbon footprint label in the UK and the Belgium social label based on the International Labour Organization convention on work conditions, right to form unions, ban on child and forced labour and so on.

Corporate Reporting

Corporate reporting goes beyond the product label to tell the consumer the environmental and social conditions under which the products are made. Companies which have a good track record on reporting may not necessarily have an equally good track record on sustainability practices.

It isn't always clear what role governments play in ensuring that gaps in information are filled and how much transparency is required. One common concern is whether all those in the global supply chain meet the standards espoused by the corporation producing the report.

Global frameworks include the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, the Equator Principles, the European-based Voluntary Initiative for Sustainability in Tourism VISIT set standards, certification and reporting beyond the general reporting guides such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the UN Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative and corporate rating systems such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Another special information disclosure is the voluntary carbon offset market, currently said to be about US $100 million per year. Various countries are reviewing standards for reporting.


All OECD countries have basic truth in advertising laws usually policed by consumer protection agencies. In addition, quite a few have guidelines of sustainability and environmental marketing. While ads used to only promote consumption (buy more), ads now often also meet consumer needs for more transparency and ethics. The OECD report states, "Commercial advertising can be a powerful force for promoting sustainable consumption in highlighting the sustainability dimensions of goods and services and convincing consumers to purchase these products, sometimes regardless of price."

Understanding Consumer Behaviour

Promoting sustainable consumption must consider the needs of the consumer. Most consumers are positive about taking action on the environment but passive. Different approaches are needed depending on the type of household, individual or group. Age, income, attitudes, gender and biases are all relevant to the development of policy.

For each section, this report has a coloured box with a brief description of what the authors consider good practices. This is useful in providing additional information but the report is more a compilation of practices than an evaluation as it lacks sufficient supporting data to explain what makes for a good practice.

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In an opinion column in the Times of India, Sudeshna Sen comments that in the UK a lot of fuss is being made about the carbon footprint, a fuss which is leading to some silly policy situations. UK politicians are not supposed to fly and have decided not to use bottled water in government buildings but the lights are blazing away in Whitehall. She points to the threat of the UK government to legislate plastic shopping bags, the thin micron ones banned in Mumbai two or more years ago. This is going to make little difference in global climate change, she suggests, until "organised retail stops packing three tomatoes in five layers of shrink wrap, thermocol, hard plastic, cardboard and then paper." The consumer in the developed world lives in a highly wasteful society which is a horror to the average Indian.

While in the UK, a lot of advertising is on topics such as use both sides of the paper, recycle and so on, recycling doesn't have to be promoted in India because of the economic value of the used goods. The waste paper or raddi (resale) value of a newspaper can be higher than the original subscription price. Trade-in of old mobile handsets for cash or rebate for a new model has been done for years. Scrap collectors pay householders to collect furniture, household junk, used gadgets, newspapers, clothing, and used bottles and cans. This approach provides both economic value and job opportunities. In the UK, households would throw this stuff in the trash bin, something just not done in India, where there is also no need for instructions on how to use the green, yellow or blue bins for recycling.

Just as micro-finance and profit-orientated development aid has improved the lives of individual Indians as compared to the moralistic aid programmes, so greening initiatives need to lead to economic benefits for individuals in the developing world. Sen concludes that it is absurd that India and China should be accused of being the biggest carbon emitters of the future when so many of the people live on the street with little of their basic needs met.

Sen, Sudeshna. Biggest Footprint. March 27, 2008. Opinion-The Economic Times (India) 


A coalition of Canadian environmental groups* have produced "a roadmap for restoring a sense of purpose and direction to our environmental protection efforts. The issues the group addresses are Energy, Wild species and spaces, Oceans, Water, Food and agriculture, Human health and toxic chemicals and Economic signals. Funding for the report was from the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation who is said to want to encourage a more unified voice from environmental groups.

Among the more than 30 ideas are:
Environmental groups in Canada have tended towards opposition to market instruments preferring government regulation (more commonly known as command and control) so it is interesting that especially for climate change and in taxing, this report supports economic signals.

For each section, the report provides lists of other documents prepared by each of the groups. It would have been nice to have links so one could follow up more easily. The idea of integrating all that information into a "roadmap" is a good one but GL thinks that each of the groups have written better reports with more insight, detail and inspiration. Each introduction to each section is a fairly generalized summary, save our planet type of approach, which might suit the general public reader while the actual recommendations may be too brief and even obscure for that audience.

*The supporting organizations are Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund), Environmental Defence, Équiterre, Greenpeace Canada, Nature Canada, Pembina Institute, Pollution Probe, Sierra Club Canada, World Wildlife Fund Canada

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Canada's Parliament is reviewing Bill C-33 to develop new renewable fuels regulations through amendments of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act CEPA. The regulations are intended to:
The regulations will require minimum renewable fuel content of 5% or more in gasoline and 2% in diesel and heating oil by 2012.

REAP: Direct Heat from Pellets

Making a presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food on February 28 was Roger Samson, Executive Director of REAP (Resource Efficient Agricultural Production) Canada based on a 2008 study REAP conducted in association with BIOCAP Canada Foundation. The study is called Analysing Ontario Biofuel options: Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Efficiency and Costs.

Samson provided a lifecycle GHG emissions for bioenergy which indicated that Canadian corn ethanol, soybean or canola biodiesel have the highest GHG emissions compared to electrical power generation from renewable sources such as manure and straw pellets. Electricity from wind power has the lowest GHG emissions but close are heating directly with geothermal, switchgrass pellets, and solar. The lifecycle analysis is highly dependent on assumptions and available data and the report recommends better accounting systems. For example, some studies do not account for carbon-rich forests and grasslands converted to croplands with a net loss of carbon storage. While governments provide incentives for green power and liquid biofuels, there are few support programs for green heat.

Issues raised by the proposed regulations are identified as:
REAP recommends that the bill be withdrawn because:
1. It cannot achieve the 4 tonnes of CO2 emission reduction.
2. It will benefit US corn growers.
3. It lacks fiscal responsibility. CO2 offsets from corn are 6-10 times more expensive than other renewable energy sources.

Instead REAP recommends:
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The March 2008 report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development says very little about climate change, apparently because it was covered in the 2006 Commissioner's report which was shortly followed by the firing to the then Commissioner, Johannes Gélinas. The lack of mention on progress on the Kyoto Protocol is a significant gap given the urgency of global action on climate change. Gelinas tended to be more interested in connecting the process of government to what is actually happening to the environment. Although there are some connections made here as well, this report is more traditional in focussing on whether departments have followed through with processes, less rivetting reading, perhaps, but still providing more important environmental information than we tend to get from the federal government these days. In this edition, Ron Thompson, Interim Commissioner since January 2007, took the approach of reviewing selected recommendations and findings considered significant and relevant from audit reports over the last decade over broad topics.

Of the fourteen chapters, five showed satisfactory progress and nine showed unsatisfactory progress. Where progress was not satisfactory, it was due to lack of one or more of the success factors.

In keeping with the theme of this issue (assuming that marketing is somewhat reflective of actions actually taken or committed to), GL thinks that the success factors are the same for corporate sustainable development plans:
Progress is being made on three chapters on chemicals management, on insurance for nuclear operations and on military dumpsites. For example, a process for dealing with abandoned mine sites in the North is being managed centrally, with a clear work plan and timelines and with adequate funding. Unsatisfactory progress is being made, usually due to lack of support at senior levels and/or lack of funding in chapters on:
GL chose one of "satisfactory" chapters as some of the chapters are unrelentingly depressing.

Chemical Management

In 1995, the government set out a list of 69 substances as priorities for risk assessment. Of these, 42 were declared toxic and control measures were put in place. Three substances are defined as toxic but not listed under the Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act: radionuclides, road salts and used crankcase oil which means that control measures may not be consistent with the requirements of the Act.

Assessments for three other substances has still not been completed even though it is likely that two, aniline and chlorinated paraffins which had assessments fourteen years ago are toxic and need measures for control. Assessments for ethylene glycol and aluminum salts were suspended for 5-6 years but in December 2007, the ministers of Environment and Health recommended ethylene glycol be added to Schedule 1. Ethylene glycol is used in antifreeze and window washing; the majority is used for airplane deicing. GL notes that apparently the latest available figure is 1996 when 7,700 tonnes of ethylene glycol was used on planes.

In 1988, new substances brought to the market had to be accompanied by information on whether they might be toxic. About 23,000 other chemicals had been used commercially in Canada before that and these were to reviewed for unacceptable risk to humans and the environment. These are published on the Domestic Substances List published 1994. Any identified as toxic were to be controlled based on the level of risk. An initial review in 2006 put 4,300 substances on a list for more review. Resources are available to complete this review by 2020.

The Chemicals Management Plan was announced in December 2006 with a commitment to evaluate the 4,300 chemicals with possible risk. To cut time and costs, the focus will be an reviewing major studies and only examining deeper if there seems to be cause. The priority is on 200 chemicals with the greatest risks with a target of completion by 2010. Industry will be expected to provide data within six months of a request by government. Environment Canada and Health Canada are involved even though they haven't been very good at working well together in the past; the agencies expect that most of the 200 chemicals will require some level of control.

The audit is limited to the specifics discussed and does not include other chemical management issues such as new substances, implementation of risk management measures already declared toxic, observes that the departments have guidance on the precautionary principle but doesn't review the implementation of that guidance. Audit work was completed on June 2007. Among the recommendations were that Environment Canada and Health Canada should make available publically the list of substances declared toxic under CEPA but not listed in Schedule 1 and to describe the control measures.

The two departments Environment Canada and Health Canada say that about 350 scientists will be hired over the next four years. The Chemicals Management Plan has a commitment of $40 million for four years.

Three Categories of Toxic Substances

Of the 4,300 chemicals, three categories have been found to be toxic under CEPA:
Environment Canada has determined that regulations will restrict manufacture, import and use of these.

Having already experienced previous federal renaissances of "progress on chemical management", GL's editor watches the posting of the "batches" of chemicals reviewed on the federal Chemicals Management web site and remains sceptical that after decades of "risk assessment", the "control measures" will be sufficient to protect Canadians and the environment. On one level, it is good for the auditor to find something positive to say but "satisfactory" in these reports is a peculiarly constrained to apply to a specific recommendation made sometimes a decade ago.

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Canadian environmental groups (Pembina Institute, Sierra Club of Canada, the Toxics Watch Society of Alberta and the Prairie Acid Rain Coalition) claim a huge victory in a Federal Court of Canada decision faulting the environmental assessment of the Kearl Oil Sands (Tar Sands) Project near Fort McMurray. The case asked for judicial review of a Joint Review Panel report of February 27, 2007. The Panel consisting of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board and the Government of Canada had recommended to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans DFO, the responsible authority, that the Kearl Oil Sands Project be authorized based on an environmental impact assessment. The Panel recommended that DFO approve the project as it would not cause significant adverse environmental effects with the mitigation measures implemented. The environmental groups said that the assessment did not comply with the mandatory steps of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act CEAA and the Panel's terms of reference.

Imperial Oil is the company wishing to build and operate the oil sands mine capable of producing 48,000 cubic metres of bitumen per day in full production in 2018 about 70 km north of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta. The mine has potential impact on the upper Muskeg River Watershed, a tributary of the Athabasca River which in turn flows into the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories.

The Environmental Assessment Process

The judgement noted that assessment is "not a wholly objective exercise but rather contains "a large measure of opinion and judgement" and that "reasonable people can and do disagree about the adequacy and completeness of evidence which forecasts future results and about the significance of such results." Follow-up programmes may be suggested as finality and certainty can never be achieved. If mitigation measures are technically feasible but not economically feasible, they aren't really mitigation measures. The CEAA requires protection of the environment and human health and application of the precautionary principle. Adaptive management permits projects with uncertain but potentially adverse impacts using flexible management strategies to adjust to new information provided sufficient information already exists about these impacts and mitigation measures are known. The process of environmental assessment is then dynamic and fluid adjusting to changing information and circumstances "so that perfect certainty regarding environmental effects is not required."

Areas of Review Requested

The applicants listed three areas for review:
A) Cumulative Effects Management Association (CEMA), Watershed Management and Landscape Reclamation
B) Endangered Species
C) Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The judgement lists the various mitigation measures including some new technologies and mine closure measures not used in the past and surrounded by uncertainty proposed by Imperial Oil. The judgement concluded that while there were some adjustments which would need to be made in the future, generally for A and B (see above) the Panel had reached rational and reasonable conclusions.

The intensity-based greenhouse gas mitigation, however, failed to win Judge Danièle Tremblay-Lamer. Imperial Oil has projected 3.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per year (equals the emissions from 800,000 passenger vehicles in Canada) or .51% of Canada's and 1.7% of Alberta's annual greenhouse gas emissions (2002 data). The mitigation measures address only GHG emissions per barrel; the more barrels produced the higher the absolute emissions. While the Panel dismissed the greenhouse gas emissions as insignificant, it failed to give any rationale as to how the intensity-based mitigation would be effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The judge states, "Without this vital link, the clear and cogent articulation of the reasons behind the Panel's conclusions, the deference accorded to its expertise is not triggered." She concluded that the Panel had made an error in law and referred back to the Panel a requirement to provide a rationale for its conclusion that the mitigation measure would reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions of the project to a level of insignificance.

Setback for Project - Victory (For a Time) for Environmental Groups

DFO could have decided to allow the project in whole or in part even if there were significant environmental impact if "these effects can be justified under the circumstances" as there may be policy decisions required reflecting wider issues than environment. However, based on the judgement, DFO revoked the water permit which it had issued. Imperial Oil announced March 31 it would appeal the decision.

Globe and Mail reporter, David Ebner, writes that environmental groups see this an opportunity to target what they see as too fast and unconsidered development in the tar sands while also getting a chance to challenge majority owner of Imperial Oil, Exxon Mobil, "considered by activists as the world's least environmentally-friendly oil company and a long-time denier of global warming."

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The release of the scientific review of adapting to climate change in Canada by Natural Resources Canada was surrounded by controversy. It seemed as if the government, already fingered for secretiveness on environmental issues it tends not to agree with, was reluctant to release the report. It looked like only a leak from some of the authors to the CBC pushed the report's sudden posting on the web. It seems even stranger because apparently Hill and Knowlton, the public relations company, had already been paid nearly $50,000 for the launch. One cannot help but think that other environmental information is being withheld.

Adaptation is defined in the report as "any activity that reduces the negative impacts of climate change and/or takes advantages of new opportunities that may be presented." Adaptation may be planned or may occur on the spur of the moment but anticipation tends to incur lower costs and should be more effective. Adaptation doesn't mean the impacts will be harmless just that they will be less severe than if no adaptation occurred. Feasibility, likelihood and mechanisms for uptake need to be considered. The report also identifies regional issues as well as Canadian impacts of climate change and adaptation in the rest of the world.

Among the findings are:
The report discusses what has already been observed due to changing climate in Canada: retreat of glaciers, decrease and duration of snow cover (GL: People might say, not this year, but this is over the last 30 years or more), 26 day earlier onset of spring in Alberta, greater productivity of growth rates of spruce and poplar in Quebec, lengthening of growing season for crops, fewer cold water fish compared to cool and warm water species, and more coastal erosion.

The report has examples of adaptation initiatives by individuals, community groups, industry and government such as:
Technologies can include hard forms such as water conserving irrigation systems, drought-resistant crops and soft technologies such as insurance and planning processes. Some technologies may be both, for example, early warning systems may require measuring devices combined with knowledge and skills of awareness raising and evacuation plans.

The conclusion: "All sections of Canadian society will need to adapt. Co-operation, co-ordination and social solidarity will help ensure that this will happen and that barriers and obstacles are removed. Moving from vision needs many steps by many motivated actors."

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The Canadian Parliament has become really exercised over whether Obama really intends to reopen NAFTA. It is not at all clear from the noisy debate whether any of the parties in the House of Commons does want the US to ask us to return to the table to reconsider some aspects of the Free Trade Agreement.

However, the reliable American nonprofit consumer advocacy group, Public Citizen, says that either or both of NAFTA and the WTO will have to be reopened if any one of the three US Presidential candidates is to implement some of his/her climate change promises.

According to Public Citizen’s report, proposals to increase Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFÉ) standards for vehicles, ban incandescent light bulbs, establish new regulation of coal-fired electric plants and national renewable portfolio standards (RPS), green procurement, and green industry subsidies conflict with existing U.S. WTO and NAFTA commitments. As a result, implementation is likely to require reopening these agreements in order to permit the climate change initiatives to move forward.

The part that makes this our “funny” story for this issue is that Canada is committing to implement the same kind of climate measures as the US Presidential candidates. If US implementation will require the reopening of WTO and NAFTA then presumably Canadian implementation will require the same. So what’s the big deal about whether one or both of the Democrat candidates actually intend to reopen NAFTA? If any of them really intend to implement their climate change proposals, they may have no option.

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