On March 22nd, 2023, the European Commission proposed a directive on green claims. It aims to establish rules and common criteria to avoid misleading claims and greenwashing. A directive sets out a goal the EU countries must achieve, and each government can devise its own laws to reach it. The European Parliament and the Council will vote in February or March 2024 to approve it.
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a marketing strategy companies and organizations use that makes false environmental claims or exaggerates the scope of their sustainability actions to meet people’s desire to purchase sustainable products, especially for the youngest generations.
A 2020 inventory by the European Commission analyzed 150 environmental claims and found that 53.3% were giving misleading, vague, or unfounded information about the ecological benefits of a product.
Which information should voluntary environmental claims communicate?
The proposal of the European Commission addresses those voluntary claims implying that a product or service has some form of environmental impact. No standard methodology has been recommended.
According to the proposal of the commission, a voluntary environmental claim:
- “relies on recognized scientific evidence and state-of-the-art technical knowledge
- demonstrates the significance of impacts, aspects, and performance from a life-cycle perspective
- takes into account all significant aspects and impacts to assess the performance
- demonstrates whether the claim is accurate for the whole product or only for parts of it (for the whole life cycle or only for certain stages, for all the trader’s activities or only a part of them)
- demonstrates that the claim is not equivalent to requirements imposed by law
- provides information on whether the product performs environmentally significantly better than what is common practice
- identifies whether a positive achievement leads to a significant worsening of another impact
- requires greenhouse gas offsets to be reported in a transparent manner
- includes accurate primary or secondary information”
Moreover, if there is any relevant information on how consumers may decrease the environmental impact of products or services when using them, it must be communicated.
Which rules concern eco-labels?
230 different eco-labels exist in the EU market. To “limit the proliferation of labeling schemes”, which results in consumers’ confusion and distrust, the European Commission defined some rules, including the prohibition of the existing labels which do not comply with the new directive, the approval of member states for new private schemes, and the ban of new national or regional publicly owned methods.
Both environmental claims and labeling schemes will be prior verified by officially accredited independent bodies.