EU legislation to combat greenwashing

The European Parliament has taken a key step forward in the fight against greenwashing with the adoption of the “Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition Directive.” Although the directive still requires Council approval before publication in the Official Journal, it was agreed in the European Parliament last week with 593 votes in favour, 21 against and 14 abstentions, hopefully marking a new era in consumer protection and environmental marketing.

Key Features of the Directive:

  1. Generic environmental claims and other deceptive product information will now be prohibited. The new rules target clearer and more trustworthy product labelling, specifically banning vague claims like “environmentally friendly” or “eco” without substantial proof.
  2. The prohibition of claims regarding neutral, reduced, or positive environmental impact solely based on emissions offsetting schemes. This change is crucial in ensuring that companies can’t just offset emissions but need to prove actual sustainable practices.
  3. Only sustainability labels based on approved certification schemes or established by public authorities will be permitted.
  4. The directive also aims to shift focus towards the durability of goods, mandating more visible guarantee information and a new label for goods with extended guarantee periods. This transparency will empower consumers to make better decisions based on the realistic lifespan of products.

This crackdown on misleading terms is a welcome change, ensuring consumers are not duped by false advertising. While these regulations are promising, we hope they don’t make it overly challenging for genuinely eco-friendly products to market their benefits. It’s crucial that this doesn’t lead to ‘greenhushing’ – where companies shy away from promoting their sustainable practices due to fear of breaking rules.

We welcome the emphasis this places on direct reductions in emissions and hope that it is the first step towards the abolition of the concept of offsetting altogether. Whilst businesses must continue to invest in high quality carbon sequestration projects, the idea that these can somehow compensate for emissions produced by business activity undermines the change we need to see.

The EU Council’s approval is the next step for this legislation. Once enacted, member states will have two years to incorporate these rules into national law. Alongside this, the EU Commission has proposed a “Directive on Green Claims,” to further protect consumers and ensure companies substantiate their environmental claims.