What is greenwashing and why is it problematic?
The practice of greenwashing, marketing or advertising claiming inaccurately that a product or business has a positive or neutral environmental impact, has become a growing issue in the EU. According to a 2020 study by the European Commission (the Commission), over 50% of the examined environmental claims in B2B or B2C advertising or marketing were found to be vague, misleading and even completely unfounded. In a sweep made by the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network (CPC) the same year, it was found that almost 60% of the traders did not provide sufficient information to enable the consumer to judge the accuracy of an environmental claim.
Combined with low consumer trust, greenwashing is a real challenge for the implementation of the European Green Deal, which is a set of policy initiatives with the overall goal of making the EU climate neutral by 2050. The role of consumer behaviour to make the EU climate neutral is critical. Hence, greenwashing goes against the objectives of the European Green Deal to empower consumers to play an active role in the ecological transition and make better and informed decisions.
What is the Green Claims Directive?
To tackle the growing greenwashing problem, on 22 March, the Commission released a proposal for a directive on the substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims (the “Green Claims Directive”). This directive is set to complement already existing EU legislation on consumer protection.
The purpose of the Green Claims directive is to remedy two key issues that impact the consumer’s opportunities to make well-informed, environmentally conscious decisions:
The directive proposal introduces minimum requirements regarding the substantiation and communication of voluntary, explicit environmental claims. Explicit environmental claims are defined as environmental claims in text or contained in a sustainability label. Said claims are also proposed to be subject to third party verification prior to being communicated to consumers. The directive will be applicable for all traders in the EU that are making explicit environmental claims about products or businesses in B2C practices, except microentities (businesses with an annual turnover of less than 2m Euros).
Some of the regulatory requirements set out in the directive are as follows:
As the Green Claims Directive has been formally proposed by the Commission, the European Parliament and council will now consider the adoption of the directive. After the directive has entered into force, the member states have 18 months to implement its provisions.
What can business do to ensure compliance?
Lack of compliance with the new rules brings a risk to reputation and your customers’ good will. Given there will be independent verifiers, business cannot treat the requirements posed as a paper tiger. Taking all of this into consideration, it is recommended that businesses take the following steps to ensure compliance:
Compliance will allow businesses to take full advantage of the opportunities of being a market leader in a more sustainability driven marketplace.