On 22 March 2023, the European Commission published a proposal on substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims (Green Claims Directive).
The proposal will address the problem of greenwashing by tackling false environmental claims made to consumers and eradicating the proliferation of public and private environmental labels.
The proposal specifically concerns the green claims made by companies declaring or implying that they have generated a positive environmental impact, or a lesser impact, that they have generated no impact, or that they have improved their products, services or organisation over time.
Such claims are required to be substantiated through ex ante verification and thus include claims made voluntarily by companies for consumers in reference to the environmental impact, appearance or performance of a product or the manufacturer of said product and that adopt a life-cycle approach, from raw materials to end of life. In addition, the Green Claim Directive’s proposal also regulates environmental labelling schemes in order to ensure the transparency and consistency of labelling systems.
The European Commission’s findings on environmental claims and greenwashing in 2020 showed that the unreliability of claims is the major current issue: 53.3% of the environmental claims examined reported vague, misleading or unfounded information, while 40% of the claims were unsubstantiated.
The consumer protection cooperation authorities in the EU Member States in 2018 had found that, in 57.5% of cases, the distributor did not provide sufficient evidence to assess the substantiation of the claim and that, in many other cases, the information was so vague that it was not clear whether it referred to the product or only to some of its components (50%), to the company or only to some of its products (36%); in 75% of cases, it was unclear which stage of the product’s life cycle it referred to.
The proposal for a Green Claims Directive refers only to claims that are not currently covered by other EU rules, meaning that where EU legislation establishes more specific rules on environmental claims for a particular sector or for a specific category of products, such as the Ecolabel scheme or the organic farming label, these rules will prevail over those of the proposed directive. Member States will be responsible for setting up verification and enforcement processes, to be carried out by independent and accredited verifiers.
Organic farming, for instance, already guarantees respect for biodiversity and ecosystems, soil and water. The rules for organic farming are indeed recognised in the proposal and were established by EU Regulation 2018/848. In Recital 9, the proposal for a Green Claims Directive states that the terms ‘bio’ and ‘eco’ and their derivatives, alone or in combination, may be used for food and food ingredients, feed materials and other products included in the scope of EU Regulation 2018/848 only in relation to certified organic products.