Consumer and environmental groups have hit out at new EU anti-greenwashing rules that they say fail to prevent companies spreading misinformation about their products.
A European Commission study from 2020 found that 53.3 per cent of examined environmental claims in the region were vague, misleading or unfounded, with 40 per cent unsubstantiated.
And this, it says, creates an uneven playing field in the EU’s market, to the disadvantage of genuinely sustainable companies.
But under the new Green Claims Directive, announced yesterday, specific claims such as ‘made of recycled plastic bottles’ or ‘ocean friendly sunscreen’ will have to be independently verified and proven with scientific evidence.
Failure to do so could lead to fines of at least four per cent of revenue, or exclusions of up to a year from public procurement processes or subsidies.
So-called microenterprises with fewer than 10 employees and less than €2 million turnover are exempt.
“Green claims are everywhere: ocean-friendly t-shirts, carbon-neutral bananas, bee-friendly juices, 100% CO2-compensated deliveries and so on. Unfortunately, way too often these claims are made with no evidence and justification whatsoever,” says Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal.
“Many Europeans want to contribute to a more sustainable world through their purchases. They need to be able to trust the claims made. With this proposal, we give consumers the reassurance that when something is sold as green, it actually is green.”
However, the rules don’t go as far as many would like, by still permitting vague claims such as ‘eco-friendly’, and also allowing companies to choose the methodologies they use to authenticate their claims.
“Sadly, without harmonized methodologies at the EU level, the new directive will provide little clarity to consumers and business, and will only complicate the job of market surveillance authorities,” says Margaux Le Gallou, program manager for environmental information and assessment at the Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS).
Meanwhile, according to Carbon Market Watch, the draft directive not only allows the controversial practice of using carbon credits to offset or cancel out emissions to continue, it doesn’t even require proof that a company has purchased carbon credits.
“This proposal risks backfiring. It doesn’t promote alternatives to current claims models, it doesn’t address existing shortcomings of green advertising, and pretty much fails across the board to put an end to greenwashing,” says Gilles Dufrasne, Carbon Market Watch’s lead on global carbon markets.
“The problem is clear, and reflected in the Commission proposal, but the political will is missing. Without further rules, European consumers will continue to hesitate when shopping between carbon-neutral sandwiches, climate-positive salads, and CO2-compensated bananas.”
And, warns director general Monique Goyens of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), “A future EU green claims law will only be as good as its enforcement. Authorities will have to heavily fine companies to clean up the market from misleading green claims and labels once and for all.”
The proposal will now need to be agreed by member states and the European Parliament before coming into force.