Z Energy Accused of Greenwashing

Default Profile ImageBen O'Connell
Z Energy

Consumer and climate activists have once again accused New Zealand’s biggest fuel retailer, Z Energy, of greenwashing.

This follows legal action late last year, in which Consumer NZ sought declarations that Z Energy breached the Fair-Trading Act with misleading public messaging.

Consumer NZ has been pursuing legal action alongside the Environmental Law Initiative and Lawyers for Climate Action NZ. The case is currently in court.

The trio contests Z Energy’s claims that the fuel giant was implementing radical steps to drastically decrease emissions and immediately working to minimise its role in the climate crisis.

Z Energy said it took the claims made against it extremely seriously. The fuel retailer’s CEO Lindis Jones retorted that ‘green-hushing’ was an equal problem to greenwashing.

Per Jones, green-hushing is when companies that should be trying to make a difference are instead scared into silence by the threat of public shame and legal review.

The complex case puts the authenticity of eco-related advertising into question nationwide.

The New Statement

A new statement sees the Consumer NZ and the climate law groups double down on claims that Z Energy is greenwashing New Zealanders.  

Z Energy’s latest annual report, released on 29 February 2024, showed its total emissions are continuing to increase. The fuel sold by Z Energy counts for about 14 percent of New Zealand’s total emissions budget.

Z Energy’s latest greenhouse gas inventory report shows that its fuel sales in 2023 were the highest they have been in the past five years.

“Z Energy continues to claim it is ‘in the business of getting out of the petrol business’, while at the same time, the emissions from its fossil fuel sales are increasing,” said Jon Duffy, chief executive of Consumer NZ.   

“While Z Energy talks about having ‘ambitious emissions reduction targets’, it is actually talking about its own operational emissions, things like its company cars and electricity use.

“Its reduction targets do not include the emissions from the fuel it sells, which, let’s face it, is the biggest source of its emissions,” said Duffy.

“To find out the truth behind the marketing, Z customers would need to sift through the company’s annual reports – should they have to?”

Trust Issues

Consumer NZ’s sentiment tracking has consistently found that nine in ten New Zealanders are mindful of where they spend their money, and about half of us will change brands if we think another brand’s products are more sustainable.

According to Consumer’s latest research, almost half of New Zealanders (47 per cent) find it difficult to determine the truthfulness of a product’s green claims, and three-quarters of us have never checked the accuracy of green claims.

“Z’s marketing is clearly designed to promote its brand as a greener choice and increase sales.” Duffy continues that this means Z Energy’s climate-conscious messaging could be driving up fossil fuel sales and, consequently, emissions.

Consumer NZ’s latest research found that one in five New Zealanders trust Z Energy highly, and over a quarter agree that Z Energy is making genuine efforts to operate more sustainably. This surpasses the results for other fuel retailers.

“The allegations of misleading conduct are particularly concerning because people trust Z more than any other fuel brand in New Zealand.

“Even though Z’s stated intent may be to ‘get out of the petrol business,’ its actions so far have not lived up to that intent. As far as we are concerned, this is a prime example of greenwashing.”

“Z’s customers are choosing a brand that self-proclaims an intent to become ‘part of the [climate change] solution’. What we’re saying is, if Z’s total emissions are increasing, where’s the evidence to back up the green glow?

“It’s vital that a precedent is set to protect New Zealanders from greenwashing, and to support businesses who are carefully considering the claims they are making through their marketing and doing their best to protect our people and our planet.”

What Is Greenwashing?

Consumer NZ describes greenwashing as “sneaky marketing that makes you think something is ‘greener’ or more environmentally friendly than it really is.”

“Greenwashing tactics can be obvious, like earthy-toned packaging or a green tick, but often, greenwashing is subtle, understated, and difficult to spot,” says Gemma Rasmussen, head of advocacy and research at Consumer NZ.

“Greenwashing is problematic because the people being misled are those that are trying to make conscious purchasing decisions,” said Rasmussen.

“Three-quarters of people have never checked the accuracy of a product’s green claims. And if people come across a green claim they believe to be false, they don’t know where to report it.”

Consumers recently looked into “green” laundry detergent claims and found many were not backed up with evidence.

“EcoLiving’s Laundry Detergent Sheets claimed to be clean, green and simple, eco-friendly, with naturally derived ingredients, plastic free and compact, and 90% less freight footprint.

“Our investigative team couldn’t find anything on the packaging, or company website to back those claims up. We contacted the company to ask for the evidence behind the green claims, but they didn’t give us a response by our publication deadline.”

Consumer NZ said it was the same story with Re-Stor Pre Measured Laundry Detergent Sheets.

The product features bold claims about being “naturally derived” and ”eco-friendly”, but again, there’s nothing on the packaging or on the company’s website to back up those claims, and questions about the origin of those claims went unanswered.

“Of the detergents our test team put through their paces, the most expensive products per load were marketed as green.”

While the Commerce Commission can fine manufacturers or businesses if they mislead consumers or make unsubstantiated claims, Consumer NZ is concerned this approach relies on shoppers working out who are making dodgy claims, and then reporting them.

“We don’t think it’s reasonable to expect shoppers to police misleading and false claims. From what we have seen so far, it doesn’t look like the government is going to have a focus on tackling our greenwashing epidemic.

“Our High Court action against Z Energy shows that we are prioritising tackling greenwashing. We think the Z Energy case is a clear example of a major corporation greenwashing the New Zealand public, and we believe this behaviour must stop.”

Consumer NZ Calls for Cases

“It might be in a store, online, or a questionable ad on radio or TV. If you hear or see some something that seems like greenwashing, send it to us via the form on our website with a brief explanation,” Rasmussen goes on.

“We’ll investigate the best examples, verify the claims, and share our findings in a quest to put an end to greenwashing.”

Further afield, regulators in the EU, UK and Australia have already investigated greenwashing, finding 40-50% of claims to be misleading.

“We think the problem would be the same, if not worse, here.

“Whether it’s intentional, lazy or a genuine misunderstanding by the business, it doesn’t matter. New Zealanders are being misled, and we need your help to do something about it.”