Competition Bureau investigating Lululemon over greenwashing allegations

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Canada’s Competition Bureau has opened a formal investigation into Lululemon’s environmental claims in its marketing campaigns, a spokesperson for the agency told CBC News on Monday.

Marianne Blondin confirmed in an email that the Competition Bureau “has commenced an investigation under the Competition Act into the alleged deceptive marketing practices.”

“There is no conclusion of wrongdoing at this time,” she wrote. “As the Bureau is obligated by law to conduct its work confidentially, I cannot provide further details on this case at this time.”

Stand.earth, the non-profit that filed the complaint against the B.C. athleisure giant accusing it of greenwashing, had announced the investigation earlier on Monday.

The complaint, which the non-profit said was filed in February, says Lululemon’s Be Planet sustainability campaign from 2020 — in which the company said it would work to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions — is contradicted by a 2022 impact report that outlined Lululemon’s progress in reaching its climate goals.

Two people passing a Lululemon store.
People walk past a Lululemon Athletica location in New York City, in March 2017. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The impact report shows the company’s Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions — indirect emissions that occur as a result of a company’s activities, including those produced by customers using its products— increased from about 471,100 tonnes in 2020 to 847,400 tonnes in 2022. Lululemon wrote in its report that this area “needs acceleration.”

The company also wrote in 2020 that it “leaned into investments and partnerships to develop sustainable materials that demonstrate our leadership in product innovation and environmental harm reduction.” 

A spokesperson for Lululemon said the company is aware of the “review” by the Competition Bureau and that it is “committed to co-operating on any next steps.”

“We are confident that its review will confirm that the representations we make to the public are accurate and well-supported,” the spokesperson said in the statement to CBC News on Monday. 

‘Not about trying to punish’

Last year, Lululemon partnered with a startup to create clothes from recycled nylon and polyester. But the report from Stand.earth says many of the company’s products continue to be made with polyester or nylon, both of which are materials manufactured from fossil fuels.

“We would like to create a win-win solution with Lululemon to see them really target and eliminate the climate pollution in their supply chain,” Todd Paglia, executive director of Stand.earth, told CBC News.

“If they did, we would drop our Competition Bureau complaint. This is about results, not about trying to punish Lululemon.”

WATCH | Lululemon’s marketing campaigns under fire from environment groups: 

Lululemon under investigation for ’greenwashing’ products

Canada’s Competition Bureau has launched an investigation of Lululemon over allegations of deceptive marketing and ‘greenwashing’ its products by misleading consumers about its environmental practices.

Under Section 9 of the Competition Act, any six Canadian residents who believe that a company is violating the act can apply to the bureau commissioner to launch an investigation.

Paglia previously called out Lululemon for greenwashing, a term used to describe when companies, governments or individuals mislead others on their environmental practice or environmental benefits.

No legal obligation 

Anika Kozlowski, an assistant professor of fashion design, ethics and sustainability at Toronto Metropolitan University, says there is legal recourse if the bureau determines that Lululemon is greenwashing.

“But in terms of companies actually having to fulfil these promises, there’s really no legal obligation on their end, as often these are just voluntary,” she said.

Lululemon isn’t the lone fashion retailer navigating these issues, Kozlowski says; it’s an industry-wide problem.

“When you look at what the root cause is, it’s just endless production and the type of materials that we’re using,” she said, referring to petroleum-based synthetic fabrics in particular.

“Even if we did it sustainably, there’s still going to be impact if we’re doing it at the volume that these companies are doing it.”

She says if the Competition Bureau finds that Lululemon uses deceptive marketing, it “will just help clear the waters for consumers, if they are trying to shop better, [so] that they understand a bit more what they’re buying.

WATCH | CBC Kids News explains greenwashing: 

Greenwashing: the secret that some brands don’t want you to know | CBC Kids News

Do you ever see companies using terms like “sustainable” or “eco-friendly?” It could be a clue that they are doing something called greenwashing.

Speaking with CBC News outside of a Lululemon store in Toronto, Gracie Valentine said that greenwashing is “pretty big nowadays, unfortunately.”

“Companies are pretty much just allowed to say whatever, so it’s hard to even know which ones to shop at now,” Valentine said.

Shavana Kunj, who was window-shopping with Valentine, said that company executives should be held responsible for a brand’s business practices — not the shoppers who buy their products.

“I’m wearing Lululemon right now. It sucks, but I’m still going to shop at the places that I like,” Kunj said.

A spokesperson for Lululemon previously told CBC News the company is focused on helping create an industry that is “more sustainable and addresses the serious impacts of climate change.”

The company is committed to its decarbonization plan, the spokesperson added, with the aim of meeting its 2030 climate targets and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

“We recognize that the majority of impact comes from emissions within the broader supply chain,” the spokesperson wrote, adding that the company reported on its own emissions in the 2022 annual report.

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