The government of Australia has been forced to revoke carbon neutral certification given to a big tobacco company after the endorsement was found to be in breach of a World Health Organization treaty to which the country is a signatory.
Freedom of information documents show a complaint was made by the managing director of the Carbon Reduction Institute, Rob Cawthorne, to the health department in August 2022 about British American Tobacco (BAT) receiving the certification from Climate Active.
Climate Active, a government-backed carbon neutral certification scheme, is managed by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. It offers certifications for organisations who can show they are making efforts to achieve carbon neutrality. Those organisations can then use the certification trademark.
In his complaint, Cawthorne wrote: “The certification itself could have the effect of saying smoking is not so bad because it causes no impact on our climate.”
Australia is said to be a signatory to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [FCTC], which means the government must protect its policies from interference from the tobacco industry and its interests.
The FCTC states, among many clauses, that government consultation with the tobacco industry should be limited to measures needed for public officials or agencies to enact effective tobacco control; that action should be taken to de-normalise the tobacco industry’s “socially responsible” activities; and thatpartnerships with the tobacco industry should be rejected.
The documents show that after being alerted to the complaint, the health department’s director of tobacco control advised the Department of Industry that “promotion of the tobacco industry’s carbon-neutral operations could be perceived as a corporate social responsibility activity and government endorsement could be in contravention of the FCTC”.
The director noted “the ‘greenwashing’ tactic used by the tobacco industry globally”.
The University of Bath’s Tobacco Tactics watchdog describes Greenwashing as harmful or controversial industries marketing themselves as environmentally friendly in a bid to divert public attention from their environmentally damaging practices.
A report on tobacco industry greenwashing co-authored by the World Health Organization found that “at every step of production, the tobacco industry has an impact on the environment”.
“It could be argued that the tobacco industry has attempted to greenwash its reputation and products through programs such as beach clean-ups, and funding environmental and disaster-relief organisations,” the report says.
“This practice is especially true in low- and middle-income countries that tobacco companies target to increase sales and profits. In recent years, as the tobacco industry has tried even harder to rehabilitate its image, the evidence suggests its greenwashing activities and promotion has increased.”
Story was adapted from the Guardian.