Brussels walks with a hanging head against greenwashing

In 2020, the European Commission found that 53% of environmental claims were misleading or unfounded and that 40% were “unsubstantiated”. Three years later, with a proposal for a directive, it goes head down against greenwashing


In 2020, the European Commission found that 53% of the environmental claims examined in the EU were ‘vague, misleading or unfounded’ and 40% were ‘unsubstantiated’. Hence, there is a need for action to protect consumers. The priorities identified are clear. First: ban generic and unsubstantiated environmental claims. Second: ban planned obsolescence. Third: guarantee the supply of spare parts and consumables, including non-original ones. Since then, the European Union has made considerable progress in the fight against greenwashing. In fact, in the coming weeks, Brussels is expected to vote on an already agreed and approved proposal.

Head down against greenwashing

The journey started on 22 March 2023 when the European Commission presented a proposal for a directive on green claims. On 9 May 2023, in a plenary session, the European Parliament, with 544 votes in favour, 18 against, and 17 abstentions, decided that “new rules are needed to improve the labelling and durability of products and put an end to misleading claims”. This is part of the first circular economy package. In September, Brussels revised and elaborated the March proposal and reached a provisional agreement on new rules against misleading sustainability claims. The rules still have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council. This vote is expected to take place in November. The aim is to protect consumers from misleading practices and help them make better purchasing choices.

What will be prohibited?

But what will be prohibited? For example, generic environmental claims (such as ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘natural’, ‘biodegradable’, ‘climate neutral’ or ‘eco and ecological’), without clear evidence of such a claim. Sustainability labels on products will only be valid if they are based on ‘approved certification schemes’ or issued by a public authority, such as a government. Furthermore, it will no longer be permitted to claim that a product has a neutral, limited, or positive environmental impact on the basis of a compensation scheme. A classic example of such a scheme is offsetting CO2 emissions by planting trees. Companies will only have to indicate the lifespan of a product if this is actually demonstrable. If a part of the product is known to limit its lifespan, the company must disclose this.
Furthermore, companies will no longer be able to call a product repairable if it is not. Inducing consumers to replace consumables (such as printer ink cartridges) earlier than necessary will also be prohibited. Warranty information will have to be more visible, and a new warranty extension label will show the product’s lifetime.

An excellent agreement

“We have reached an excellent agreement for consumers,” says Parliament rapporteur Biljana Borzan, “60% of European consumers do not even know that all products have a legal guarantee. Today, this changes, with a reminder that it will be present in all EU shops and, in some cases, also on the packaging. In addition, a new extended warranty label will clearly show which products last longer, so it will be easier to buy more durable products. We should not advertise products that fail too soon”. To become law, the provisional agreement will now have to get the final OK from the Parliament and the Council. The vote of the MEPs is expected in November. When the directive enters into force, member states will have 24 months to incorporate the new rules into their legislation. (mv)

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