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Consumer groups urge action to stem tide of misleading "˜green' energy claims

The National Consumer Council and the consumer watchdog, energywatch, today call on Britain’s household energy suppliers to be more honest and upfront about their “˜green’ tariffs ““ and to spell out clearly what the environmental benefits really are.

The call comes as NCC publishes an investigation into the environmental credentials of green tariffs on offer in this country. NCC’s research shows that while many consumers say they’re happy to pay a premium for green energy, most green tariffs don’t live up to the environmental benefits claimed.

For instance, no supplier, whether “˜green’ or otherwise, makes it clear that every GB household is already supporting renewable electricity to the tune of £7 a year through their normal electricity bills. Also the complex rules that encourage all energy suppliers to source renewably can mean the electricity’s “˜greenness’ is oversold. Even choosing a green tariff that offers to plant a tree would not contribute anywhere near enough to offset a household’s carbon emissions.

Lord Larry Whitty, NCC’s chairman said:

“˜With consumers increasingly trying to do their bit for the environment, switching to a green tariff should be a simple way for them to make a difference. But our investigation shows that it’s too easy for consumers to be confused and misled. They may think they are helping save the planet, but it’s not clear that they are.

“˜That’s why we’re calling for a shake up in how companies market and sell their green tariffs, and for them to offer bigger environmental benefits. Even the better tariffs would only cut the CO2 emissions of a typical household by around 6 per cent.’

Adam Scorer, energywatch Director of Campaigns said:

“˜It seems bizarre that in the age of green consumerism only 1% of consumers are signed up to green energy tariffs. But dig a bit deeper and you can see how maddeningly complex and confusing some of these products are. energywatch has produced a factual guide that explains exactly what consumers are signing up to when they choose a green tariff.

‘And together with NCC, energywatch will be pressing energy suppliers to sign up to minimum standards for green claims and have their tariffs and CO2 savings independently audited. That would mean no more unsubstantiated claims, and clear, accurate, comparable information about the environmental benefits offered and the carbon emissions saved if a customer signs up.’

Lord Whitty added: “˜Only with such independent scrutiny will consumers have confidence that switching to a green tariff will make a real difference – allowing the market for greener energy to take off.’

NCC investigated the veracity of green tariff claims because consumers are increasingly interested in adopting greener lifestyles. There are also concerns that good practice “˜green supply’ guidelines issued by the energy regulator in 2002 are being patchily enforced. Although the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently ruled against one supplier’s misleading CO2 offset claim, the ASA can only act in response to complaints ““ leaving many misleading claims unchecked.