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Australian watchdog issues nation’s first-ever greenwashing fine

Tlou Energy is the first Australian firm to be fined for lying about its environmental credentials. A corporate watchdog says claims that its sub-Saharan African gas and electric power projects are carbon neutral and low emissions are ‘factually incorrect’.

If the latest legal ongoings in Australia are anything to go by, it could be getting difficult for energy companies to hide behind greenwashing tactics.

The front page of Aussie-based Tlou Energy’s website promises ‘cleaner energy for Botswana & Southern Africa’, but a bit of further digging by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) is calling their bluff.

In a statement, the corporate body said, ‘ASIC was concerned that Tlou either did not have a reasonable basis to make the representations, or that the representations were factually incorrect.’

This has led to the energy firm being the first to be issued a fine of AUS $53,280 for greenwashing. ASIC is adamant that it won’t be the last.

Tlou Energy develops a hydrogen strategy to complement its gas-to-power project in Botswana

What specific claims did Tlou make?

You know, the usual.

Tlou Energy stated that all the electricity produced in its sub-Saharan Africa projects would be carbon neutral and that it had received official environmental approval.

It went further to say that Tlou had the capability to generate large quantities of electricity from solar and that its gas-powered energy would be low emissions, but corporate regulators at ASIC couldn’t find sufficient evidence to support any of these claims.

All of these inconsistencies are what led the energy firm has become Australia’s first to be fined for greenwashing.

ASIC has stated that Tlou Energy’s payment of the fine isn’t an admission of guilt. But it is slightly telling that the firm agreed to cough up the money, despite denying it had broken any rules.

Australia’s energy enigma

Despite being rich in biodiversity – think coral reefs, kelp forests, deserts, mountains, and forests – Australia’s government has been particularly stubborn about taking action to mitigate the climate crisis.

Australian ministers, like those from India, China, and Japan, kept their hands in their pockets as leaders from more than 40 nations penned a commitment to phasing out coal at COP26.

This blatant refusal led to an outcry from environmentalists around the world, especially as coal accounted for a whopping 40 percent of the growth in global emissions last year.

While disappointing, Australia experiences serious financial gain from burning and selling fossil fuels. In fact, coal mining makes up 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

Australian coal mine

To the surprise of absolutely no one who has been keeping up with the planet’s wellbeing, most political leaders have the interest of the national economy at heart.

For that reason, we can’t always expect dollar-concerned governments to assess the ethical and environmental practices inside energy companies. A sad reality, but it’s true.

This is what makes the work of external investigative bodies like ASIC so important.

ASIC’s deputy chair Sarah Court said that companies making vast claims about sustainability ‘must ensure they can support those statements and have a reasonable basis for doing so.’

A fair warning, as ASIC is on a mission to step up its anti-greenwashing agenda, with a number of active investigations already pending.

These projects are examining any potential misleading or deceptive statements by major Australian companies.

In other words, if you’re saying your energy is eco-friendly, we’re gonna need to see the receipts