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The single word central to ‘greenwashing' complaint sent to ACCC

The complaint was filed after the ACCC said it would crack down on greenwashing.

A Victorian government-owned business has been accused of “greenwashing” and referred to the ACCC by a conservation group.

The 21-page complaint about VicForests asks Australia's competition regulator to investigate eight separate concerns about claims published on the logging agency's website.

Its first concern is the phrase, "Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do at VicForests". The complaint asks the ACCC to take into account what consumers would ordinarily think the word "sustainability" means.

A circle around the word sustainability on the VicForests webpage.
VFA has questioned VicForests' claims about "sustainability". Source: VicForests

"An ordinary consumer would likely interpret the Regeneration Claims to mean that timber harvesting operations conducted by VicForests do not damage the environment or deplete natural resources for future generations," the complaint suggests.

What is the complaint about?

On Thursday, lawyers for Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) issued a complaint about VicForests on behalf of conservation group Victorian Forest Alliance (VFA).

VFA alleges some actions by VicForests' are environmentally damaging and harm native animals that are threatened with extinction. These beliefs have led to concerns the company could be greenwashing.

“VicForests tell the marketplace that it's clean and 'green’ when it’s destroying the habitat of endangered wildlife… This is a clear example where consumers can no longer trust sustainability claims,” VFA campaigner Chris Schuringa said.

A logging coup covered in ash.
VFA has concerns some of VicForests logging practices may not be sustainable. Source: Chris Taylor/Supplied

How did VicForests respond?

VicForests is yet to confirm whether it plans to challenge VFA's claims. A spokesperson for the agency issued a statement saying its operations receive oversight and it only annually harvests 3000 hectares of the 367,000 hectares it is given access to.

"There are about 8 million hectares of forest in Victoria, and 94 per cent of Victoria’s native forests are in protected areas that cannot be harvested or are unsuitable," it added.

What did the ACCC say?

The ACCC is yet to respond publicly to the complaint, so the agency told Yahoo it could not comment on “potential investigations”.

“Greenwashing is a priority for the ACCC and we are currently examining a number of concerns about greenwashing involving a range of industries,” it added.

A greater glider hanging onto a branch.
VicForests lost its appeal in the Supreme Court over its logging in greater glider habitat. Source: AAP (File)

Lawyer questions VicForests' sustainable logging claims

The beleaguered logging company VicForests has lost several high-profile court cases in relation to its timber harvesting practices and reported an annual loss of $54.2 million during its last annual report.

In June, it lost an appeal to a Supreme Court decision that has forced it to halt clearing trees in parts of Victoria because it had failed to adequately survey for endangered greater gliders.

VicForests has been unable to attain accreditation from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Its logo on products like tissues and toilet paper brand is designed to assure consumers it was sourced from sustainable sources.

Natalie Hogan, a lawyer with EJA said it was “difficult to understand” how sustainable logging claims made by VicForests were consistent with court findings.

VicForests argues its operations receive oversight

While the state government has promised to end native forest harvesting by 2024, VFA is concerned that over 65,000 hectares of public land could be cleared before then across Benalla, Mansfield, Bendigo, Central and East Gippsland, the Mid-Murray and Western Victoria.

VicForests told Yahoo its practices are monitored through “extensive internal, external, certification and regulatory audits”.

“VicForests harvesting operations are oversighted by the independent Office of the Conservation Regulator (OCR),” it said.

“The OCR conducts pre-harvest surveys in coupes based on their priorities for identification of threatened species information through the Forest Protection Survey Program.”

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