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Court finds Saab Grrrrrreen claims misled

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Saab marketing staff to undergo green training as Grrrrrrreen ads found misleading

Saab logo20 Sep 2008

GM HOLDEN has been ordered to train the marketing staff of its subsidiary, Saab Australia, in relation to misleading and deceptive ‘green’ marketing claims after the Federal Court declared that its “Grrrrrrreen” advertising campaign was misleading.

The Federal Court ruling, announced on Thursday (September 18), relates to newspaper and magazine advertisements published between July 27 and September 1 last year, which claimed “Every Saab is green” and “With carbon emissions neutral across the entire Saab range”.

It upheld claims by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), dating back to January 18, that the advertisements represented to consumers that by planting 17 native trees the company would offset the amount of CO2 produced by any Saab vehicle over the life of that vehicle, when in fact its CO2 output would be offset for only one year.

As part of the settlement of the ACCC’s legal action against GM Holden, trading as Saab Australia, Saab agreed not to republish the original advertisement and to have its marketing staff training reviewed as part of a scheduled review of its trade practices compliance program later this year.

GM Holden has also voluntarily undertaken to initiate the planting of an additional 12,500 native trees through government-approved abatement provider Greenfleet, which Saab estimates will offset the CO2 emissions from all Saabs purchased during the two-week perdiod from when the advertisement was first published until it was replaced by a revised version - for ten years, which is the official average lifespan of a new vehicle in Australia.

The ACCC warned it would take similar action against other companies it deemed to be “greenwashing”.

“Companies risk breaching the Trade Practices Act if they give an overall impression to consumers that their product is environmentally friendly when it isn’t,” said ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel in a statement.

“The ACCC will continue to be vigilant on ‘greenwashing’ and will not hesitate to take enforcement action, including Federal Court action, against traders who make false or misleading representations to consumers, as has been demonstrated by this case.” Saab Australia umbrella group GM Premium Brands issued a statement the same day saying it had agreed to settle the ACCC’s legal proceedings, but pointed out that ACCC’s settlement documents acknowledged Saab did not intend to mislead customers.

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“We take our responsibilities as an advertiser very seriously and we welcome the ACCC’s acknowledgement in the settlement documents that we did not intend to mislead consumers about the carbon dioxide offset program,” said the director of GM Premium Brands, Parveen Batish, who in February described the matter as “rather like taking a sledgehammer to crack a small egg”.

According to Saab, the advertisement intended to advise readers that 17 trees would offset one year of CO2 emissions for each car, however “some readers could have interpreted the advertisement to mean that Saab vehicles were carbon dioxide neutral over their life. The revised advertisement described more clearly that the 17 trees would offset carbon dioxide emissions for one year only”.

Saab commenced this carbon dioxide offset program in January 2007 and said that in August 2007 it identified that one advertisement was “not as clear as it could be”.

It said that it amended the advertisement and issued a revised version for publication of its own accord, before the ACCC had issued any guidelines regarding ‘green’ marketing.

“The advertisement was one of a number of promotional materials around the program and was only published for a very short time before we identified it was not as clear as it could be and replaced it," said Mr Batish.

“It is important to reiterate that we had no intention to mislead consumers and we welcome the ACCC’s leadership in recently releasing publications concerning ‘green’ marketing, carbon claims and environmental issues.

“As well as this, Saab has also initiated the planting of an additional 12,500 native trees through Greenfleet. Saab estimates these trees will offset 10 years of CO2 emissions from Saabs purchased during the period the advertisement was first published until it was replaced by the revised version on 12 August 2007.

“We took these steps because we feel it is important to demonstrate how committed we are to building and maintaining a relationship of trust and honesty with our customers,” said Mr Batish.

“When combined with the trees which Saab has already arranged to be planted pursuant to the program, it means that over 47,500 trees have been planted or are scheduled to be planted on Saab’s behalf.” Mr Batish said that Saab is yet to receive any complaints from any Saab purchasers about the original advertisement, and that he believed environmentally conscious drivers would continue to support Saab, which would continue to drive environmental initiatives for General Motors in Australia.

“Being an environmental leader is extremely important to Saab,” he said. “Saab launched its BioPower range of vehicles last year and is proud to be the first and only car company in Australia to offer drivers a renewable driving alternative.” Saab’s 9-3 and 9-5 BioPower “flex-fuel” models remain the only production cars available in Australia that can run on E85, despite the fact the 85 per cent ethanol fuel blend remains available only at three filling stations nationally – Rozelle in Sydney and Mawson Lakes and Parkholme in South Australia.

Read more:

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ACCC challenges Saab's green claims

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