Litigation brought against Z Energy in NZ’s first greenwashing case

Lawyers for Climate Action New Zealand, along with Consumer New Zealand and the Environmental Law Initiative (ELI) have lodged proceedings in the High Court against Z Energy in the country’s first greenwashing case. The claimants are seeking declarations from the High Court that Z Energy has breached the Fair Trading Act by misleading the public with its messaging.

Greenwashing occurs where a company uses advertising and public messaging to appear climate conscious and more environmentally sustainable than is actually the case. Greenwashing is a rapidly developing area of international climate law.

Lawyers for Climate Action submit that Z Energy has made numerous claims which give the impression it is attempting to significantly reduce its emissions and mitigate its contribution to the climate crisis. However, the organisation point out that Z Energy is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter in New Zealand and is accountable for more than 10% of the country’s emissions.

In 2022 Z Energy launched a campaign which claimed the company was “getting out of the petrol business”, citing its biofuel manufacturing plant, expansion of electric vehicle chargers in petrol stations and move into electricity retailing as examples.

Lawyers for Climate Action made a complaint to the Commerce Commission against Z’s ‘Moving with the Times’ advertising campaign. While the Commerce Commission has stated that greenwashing is one of its priorities, its efforts thus far have focused on educating industries about how to avoid greenwashing.  The Commission acknowledged the issues in the complaint, but declined to investigate.

Lawyers for Climate Action therefore seek a Declaration from the High Court which will hold Z Energy accountable and will clarify the law on greenwashing in NZ.

Read the Statement of Claim here.

Special thanks to Summer Clerk Stella Smith for her assistance in writing this article.

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