Competing for Green Growth


Remarks from Matthew Boswell, Commissioner of Competition

Competition and Green Growth Summit

Ottawa, ON

September 20, 2022

(As prepared for delivery)

Hello, and welcome everyone to the Competition and Green Growth Summit. It’s been a while since I’ve spoken in front of a such a large and live audience. I have to say, it feels good. This is our first time hosting a fully hybrid event, and the first in-person competition event in Canada since the pandemic began. We have a diverse crowd today, with international attendees from business, academia, government, and think-tanks.

For those of you joining us in-person today, I’m glad you can be here with us at the iconic National Arts Centre in downtown Ottawa, just a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill. And, for those of you joining us virtually, thanks for taking part in what promises to be an important and informative conversation on competition and environmental sustainability.

Before I get started with my remarks, I first want to acknowledge that the National Arts Centre is built on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg (Ah-nish-in-a-bek) People. Their collective knowledge and experiences are connected to this Land and are present in this space today. I’m grateful to be speaking to you from these territories and committed to moving forward in the spirit of partnership, reconciliation and collaboration.

And in that same spirit, I’d like to acknowledge our team’s incredible effort to make this event happen. You’ve done an amazing job, and we’re all grateful. And thanks also to our speakers who have generously given their time and energy to get us talking about this challenging and important topic. We appreciate your commitment and your expert guidance.

Today’s event builds on Bureau interest in interdisciplinary topics. For example, in recent years we have explored the links between competition and intellectual property, competition and privacy, and competition and gender. This helps us look at policy issues in a new light, while connecting with experts from different backgrounds. It enriches our understanding and fosters innovation.

So, why is it important that we talk and learn about “green growth,” and what competition has to do with it?

Fundamentally, competition is a force for good in society. It benefits consumers, it helps us use resources efficiently, it drives innovation, and it rewards responsiveness to market demand. Competition underpins a dynamic and adaptable economy responding to climate change.

The science of climate change has shown the need for urgent action across the globe. The message is clear: without significant changes in how we produce and consume, a warming planet will have significant consequences. 

The climate crisis has prompted governments around the world to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement is the latest international treaty on climate change and was adopted by 192 countries plus the European Union. Here in Canada, the federal government adopted its 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan, and Canadian citizens and business owners are taking action to move towards a greener economy.

Against this backdrop, the competition community has begun to ask questions on the role of competition law and policy in meeting our environmental commitments. Our European colleagues launched the European Green Deal in 2019. And, in the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority, or CMA,  recently established a Sustainability Taskforce. We are honored to have representatives of those agencies with us and look forward to learning more about their work.

So, where do we fit in? Why does this matter to us? It matters because competition law and policy can help us transition to a greener economy. I think of it from two angles:

  • On the supply-side, competition policy helps foster innovation and competition based on merit, while leaving room for legitimate collaboration between businesses to deliver goods and services in more sustainable ways.
  • On the demand-side, competition policy helps consumers make informed choices by rooting out misleading environmental claims or anti-competitive practices that can block consumers from choosing greener options. 

Businesses are able to compete to give consumers what they want, and consumers are able to reward the companies that do it best. It is the basic role of competition authorities to ensure that anti-competitive conduct does not get in the way.

Some of you may be thinking that it’s not the role of enforcement agencies to protect the environment. We’ve heard that before when talking about privacy or gender equity. They have no place in our work. They should be dealt with through other policy levers. They’ll make our work more complicated and less predictable. And so on.

I understand that sentiment, but I think it misses the point. This is not about expanding the goals of competition law or changing the legal tests we apply. It’s much simpler than that. This is about understanding how the green transition could impact the work we do, and how the work we do could impact the green transition.

Climate change may be the greatest market failure we have faced – if we can contribute to addressing it simply by doing our day job or sharing our unique insights with policymakers, we should think about that. And that’s what we’re here to do today.  

So let me briefly talk about some of the important areas of intersection …

First, consumer confidence. It’s the Bureau’s job to protect the integrity of the marketplace, and that includes consumer confidence in the green economy. Consumers are making more and more green choices, and businesses are reacting to meet this demand. We see environmental claims everywhere, but they’re not all legit. Greenwashing, the practice of making false or misleading eco-claims about a product or service, is on the rise. It’s our job to protect consumers from eco-fraud, just like we did in our recent case against coffee giant, Keurig.

Falsely promoting “green” products harms consumers by limiting their ability to make informed decisions. It harms businesses that compete fairly. And it harms the environment.

Second, let’s look at anti-competitive conduct like horizontal agreements, mergers and monopolistic practices. A merger of competing environmental companies could make those services more expensive or less innovative, harming not only the market, but the environment as well.

We expect environmental considerations to become an even greater concern, so we must be alert to these considerations when we’re analyzing business conduct.

Lastly, we should think about the broader regulatory environment, and ask ourselves, how can we ensure that regulations promote, rather than hinder, competition?

So, to help us answer that question, we have a great day ahead of us.

The kickoff panel will provide context on the transition to a greener economy. We’ll explore the role of competition in achieving the government’s sustainability goals and enhancing Canada’s global competitiveness.

Our enforcers panel will feature senior officials from competition agencies in Europe, the US and the UK, who will discuss the practical aspects of environmental considerations in competition enforcement.

And our final panel will feature leading competition law experts who will discuss the role of competition enforcement in the transition to a greener economy, including business collaborations and enforcement against greenwashing.

In addition to our incredible speakers, we are privileged to be hearing from Professor Bill Kovacic, one of the leading global thinkers on antitrust - during a recorded lunchtime address.

So, without further delay, let’s get started. I’ll see you at the end of the day for some brief closing remarks. Enjoy your day everyone.

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