On 22 March 2023, the European Commission advanced a proposal for a Directive on Green Claims. Authored by the EU Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENV), which is responsible for the European Union’s environmental policy, this proposal addresses misleading sustainability claims and greenwashing via new rules and common criteria on ecological claims and labels.
“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. This opens the door to greenwashing and puts companies making genuinely sustainable products at a disadvantage. 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,” said Frans Timmermans, the Executive Vice-President of the European Green Deal, in an official statement
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a marketing tactic employed by companies and organizations that consists of false environmental claims or an exaggeration of the scope of sustainability practices and efforts. This practice aims to tap into the widespread desire among consumers, especially those belonging to Gen Z, to purchase sustainable products.
→ ‘T-shirt made of recycled plastic bottles' → ‘CO2 compensated delivery' → ‘Packaging made of 30% recycled plastic' → ‘Ocean friendly sunscreen'.
Are we helping the environment if we put these products in our shopping basket?
The inventory of environmental claims carried out by the European Commission in 2020 exposed the widespread use of greenwashing and non-credible sustainability claims. In fact, out of the sample of 150 environmental claims analyzed for the inventory, 53.3 per cent were found to be giving misleading, unfounded, vague information about the products’ environmental attributes.
“All of us want to do our best to limit the impacts of our consumption choices on the environment, but it’s not easy being green. We are bombarded with information. There are 230 different ecolabels on the EU market. Being able to trust green claims and labels on products is important. The proposals tabled by the Commission today will protect businesses and consumers from harmful greenwashing practices and tackle the proliferation of labels. We want to help consumers become more confident about their choices and ensure that those companies that make genuine efforts to reduce their impacts on nature, resource use, climate emissions or pollution are rewarded. We should also advance on using common trustworthy labels like the EU Ecolabel, which is a mark of environmental excellence on our single market,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, the Commissioner for Environment.
Targets and timeline
The Proposal for a Directive on Green Claims covers explicit claims communicated voluntarily by companies to consumers that describe aspects of a product’s or the trader’s environmental performance and are not presently covered under other EU regulations.
In March 2022, the European Commission adopted a proposal to update the EU consumer rules to facilitate informed and sustainable purchasing choices in the context of the green transition. In accordance with the European Union legislative procedure, the European Commission’s Green Claims Directive proposal must be approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union to become law.