A ‘greenwashing’ action in Europe has not gone down well

  • The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, recently published its so-called “Green Claims Directive”.
  • The long-awaited proposal aims to establish an EU-wide methodology that will help clean up the environmental claims market.
  • Campaigners have generally responded positively to the push to halt the burgeoning corporate greenwashing trend.
  • But they say months of lobbying efforts have “substantially weakened” the directive so much that the measures are now too vague to sufficiently address the problem.

Greenwashing refers to the marketing practice in which companies try to capitalize on the growing movement for eco-friendly products by selling goods that are labeled as green, but are actually not.

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The EU outlined new measures to prevent companies from making unsubstantiated environmental claims about their products, warning companies that they could soon face fines of at least 4% of their annual turnover for “greenwashing”.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, published its so-called “Green Claims Directive” on Wednesday. The long-awaited proposal aims to establish an EU-wide methodology that will help clean up the environmental claims market.

The directive still needs to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council before it can enter into force.

The EU says it hopes to give consumers more clarity, so that when a product or service is sold as green, they can be confident that it is actually environmentally friendly.

Today, most green claims are too good to be true and the proposition is… far from the real (green) deal.

Margaux le Gallou

environmental information and assessment program manager at Environmental Coalition on Standards

However, the proposals have provoked mixed reactions from consumer and environmental groups.

Campaigners have generally responded positively to efforts to curb the burgeoning corporate greenwashing trend, but say a months-long lobbying effort has “significantly watered down” the directive to the point that the measures are now too vague to adequately address the issue. to take.

They have called on the European Parliament and the Council to improve the proposals so that they are “of value” for consumers and businesses.

Greenwashing refers to the marketing practice in which companies try to capitalize on the growing movement for eco-friendly products by selling goods that are labeled as green, but are actually not.

It is a major problem within the EU. For example, a study published by the commission in 2020 found that more than half (53%) of green claims made on products and services were considered vague, misleading or unfounded, while 40% were unfounded.

Some expressions that consumers have become accustomed to when buying goods are ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable’.

The commission says there are about 230 different environmental labels used in the bloc of 27 countries, citing evidence that this leads to consumer confusion and distrust.

The EU’s “Green Claims Directive” attempts to address this trend.

It says the proposal will ensure that claims are clearly communicated to the benefit of consumers – and businesses – and notes that companies making a real effort to improve the environmental sustainability of their products should be more easily recognized and therefore able to increase their sales. stimulate.

The measures target explicit claims, the commission says, such as “carbon-compensated delivery”, “packaging made from 30% recycled plastic” or “ocean-friendly sunscreen”.

However, it doesn’t cover terms like “carbon neutrality,” advocacy groups said, noting that this is a favored marketing strategy for companies looking to give their products a “green makeover.”

“This proposal is a huge missed opportunity to send a strong signal to businesses that the EU is serious about corporate climate responsibility,” said Lindsay Otis, policy expert on global carbon markets at Carbon Market Watch.

“The Commission seems to understand the problems caused by greenwashing, but refuses to adequately address them,” Otis said. “It is now up to the European Parliament and the Council to ban carbon neutrality claims, because anything less than that will not only fail to protect consumers, but will also fail to encourage companies to truly sustainable practices.”

“With this proposal, we give consumers the assurance that when something is sold as green, it is actually green,” said Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The EU says that before disclosing any of the covered types of green claims, companies must first have them independently verified and proven with scientific evidence. EU Member States would be in control of setting up a verification process that is monitored by independent bodies.

Companies based outside the EU that make green claims targeting the bloc’s consumers would also have to comply with the directive.

“Green claims are everywhere: ocean-friendly t-shirts, carbon-neutral bananas, bee-friendly juices, 100% CO2-compensated deliveries and so on,” says Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Green Deal.

“Unfortunately, far too often these claims are made without any evidence and any justification,” he added. “With this proposal, we give consumers the assurance that when something is sold as green, it is green.”

The proposal excludes claims that fall under existing EU rules, the committee says, such as the EU eco-label or the organic food logo.

Margaux Le Gallou, program manager for environmental information and assessment at the non-profit Environmental Coalition on Standards, said: “Tackling misleading green claims is critical to ensuring consumers are provided with reliable information and empowered to make sustainable choices. to make.”

“Unfortunately, without harmonized methods at EU level, the new directive will provide little clarity to consumers and businesses and will only make the work of market surveillance authorities more difficult. Today, most green claims are too good to be true and the proposal is… far from it the real (green) deal,” added Le Gallou.

Others were more optimistic about the possible impact of the measures proposed by the commission.

The proposals “will help provide more clear language, shared governance criteria and minimum requirements to communicate corporate climate efforts in authentic, credible ways,” said Isabel Hagbrink, director of global communications at South Pole, a climate strategy and solutions firm.

“We hope that this, in turn, will contribute to greater and more genuine corporate climate ambition,” Hagbrink told CNBC via email. “Given that we are well into our decade of action and have sounded the alarm once again to climate scientists, we simply cannot afford to have anyone – especially large business leaders – ‘green-hush’ about their climate efforts,” she added. .


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