Consumer NZ takes Z Energy to High Court, accuses it of misleading New Zealanders with climate change comments

Consumer New Zealand and multiple climate action groups are seeking a declaration from the High Court Z Energy has misled New Zealanders with its public messaging about climate change.    

Consumer NZ, the Environmental Law Initiative (ELI) and Lawyers for Climate Action New Zealand Inc (LCANZI) are accusing the petrol giant of breaching the Fair Trading Act.    

"Regardless of people's stance on climate issues, all New Zealanders want to know they can trust what they're told by big businesses," said Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy.   

Duffy said he is "seriously concerned" Z Energy has made several public claims which "create the impression it is making bold changes to significantly reduce its emissions and is urgently mitigating its contribution to the climate crisis". But he said that is not the case at all.    

He added Z Energy is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter in New Zealand and is accountable for more than 10 percent of the country's emissions.   

Duffy pointed to slogans the company used in adverts last year including, "We're in the business of getting out of the petrol business", and Z is "well on track to achieving [its] carbon reduction targets".    

"In reality, Z Energy's fossil-fuel sales and carbon emissions are increasing," Duffy said.   

Consumer, ELI and LCANZI allege through various advertising campaigns and public statements Z Energy has created the impression it is taking urgent action to counter the climate crisis. Claims have included that Z:   

  • Is reducing its carbon emissions   
  • Is getting out of the petrol business   
  • Has built a biofuel plant   
  • Is rapidly expanding its electric vehicle (EV) charging network    

"When we look at them closely, Z Energy's claims don't stack up," he added.   

"Z Energy's total monthly emissions have increased this year. Its sales of fossil fuels are increasing, as is its total share of the fuel market.   

"Z Energy's biofuel plant stopped operating in 2020 and shut down completely in 2022.   

"EV chargers have only been installed in a small percentage of Z's outlets and its former chief executive publicly said fast chargers on forecourts are not a long-term transition option for Z Energy."   

Consumer, ELI and LCANZI believe Z Energy is capitalising on New Zealanders' concerns about the climate crisis for commercial gain.   

"From what we can see publicly, there is nothing particularly bold or urgent about Z Energy's approach to getting out of the petrol business, raising concerns that its actions are at odds with its stated intent," Duffy said.   

"We are concerned Z Energy is suggesting to New Zealanders it is substantially reducing its total emissions, but the actions it has taken to date are nowhere near enough to keep us on track to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.   

"Our research has consistently found about 90 percent of New Zealanders are mindful of where they spend their money, and about half of us will change brands if we think another brand's products are more sustainable."  

He said Z Energy's messaging "indicates it is a sustainable fuel choice, but we don't believe its actions are consistent with that message".   

Following its "moving with the times" advertising campaign, Z Energy was rated New Zealand's most preferred fuel brand, and subsequently increased its sale of fossil fuels.   

"We understand that Z Energy's promotional activities improved its reputation with New Zealanders, including in relation to its climate change impact. We think it's a mirage."   

According to Consumer's own research, nine in 10 New Zealanders place some importance on a product's green claims being verified before it is sold.   

Consumer's research also shows nearly half of New Zealanders (47 percent) find it difficult to tell the truthfulness of a product's environmental or "green" claims, and around three-quarters (73 percent) have never checked "green" claims to see if they are accurate.   

"We think Z Energy is banking on New Zealanders trusting its climate conscious messaging. There is a risk people believe filling up their tank at a Z Energy station means they are doing less damage to the environment, because they're choosing a brand that self-proclaims to be 'part of the [climate change] solution'.   

"This messaging is driving up Z Energy's fuel sales and emissions, and ultimately, is likely to be increasing its profits.   

"We want the courts to consider whether Z Energy's messaging to the public has been misleading. We believe, even though its stated intent may be to 'get out of the petrol business', so far, its actions do not live up to that intent."  

Duffy added it's "heartening" Z has such positive aspirations, but it needs to be able to substantiate any claims it makes.   

"We think this is another example of a major corporation greenwashing the New Zealand public, and we firmly believe this must stop," he concluded.    

A spokesperson for Z Energy said the company takes Consumer NZ's claims "extremely seriously". 

"Z Energy (Z) acknowledges the statement of claim served to us by Consumer NZ Inc, Lawyers for Climate Action NZ and the Environmental Law Initiative. 

"We take the claim made against Z extremely seriously and are now working to consider our response."