A new era for environmental accountability in the EU?

The European Commission has released a draft version of the Green Claims Directive, which aims to clarify the definition of greenwashing and provide specific guidelines for various industries. The document highlights that 53% of environmental claims made about products and services are either uncertain, misleading, or unfounded.

The Commission acknowledges that the vast number of environmental certification and labelling schemes is causing confusion among consumers. With over 230 different schemes currently in use, many with varying levels of transparency, it is difficult for consumers to know which ones to trust. According to the Commission, approximately half of these labelling schemes are either unverified or weakly verified.

Setting minimum requirements under the Circular Economy Action Plan

The Green Claims Directive is part of the EU’s new Circular Economy Action Plan, which establishes minimum requirements for businesses to substantiate, communicate, and verify their environmental claims. Claims related to recycled plastic content, carbon impact, and other environmental factors must be backed by scientific evidence covering the entire lifecycle of a product or service. Failure to comply may result in penalties such as fines, revenue confiscation, and temporary exclusion from public procurement processes and public funding. Enforcement of these penalties will be the responsibility of individual EU member states.

Addressing greenhushing and ecolabels

The Directive also targets greenhushing, which occurs when companies omit relevant information about their environmental impact. In addition, the document addresses ecolabels, including the EU’s own ecolabel and the organic farming labelling scheme. The Directive bans the introduction of new labels until its implementation, after which all existing and new schemes will be subject to new third-party verification requirements. One key focus will be the prohibition of aggregated scores.

Enforcement and industry lobbying impact

While the Green Claims Directive has been praised for raising the standard to combat greenwashing and ending unsubstantiated green claims, its effectiveness will ultimately depend on proper enforcement and the application of appropriate penalties. Notably, the proposal no longer contains clear rules to prevent misleading claims, such as labelling products as eco-friendly or carbon neutral, due to heavy lobbying from industry bodies. Critics argue that the promised legislation to address these concerns in the future feels too vague.

 

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