New criteria to enable sustainable choices protecting from GREENWASHING
A very interesting and informative EU proposal for a directive on Green Claims which was recently published. This sets out the main issues and proposal aims that must be addressed. We are in full support of this proposal and feel it is a crucial step in eliminating misleading or false green claims which are damaging to the environment and the flexible packaging industry.
European Commission (EC) Proposal for a Directive on Green Claims, which has been published on 22nd March. The EC has also published a factsheet. The proposal complements the Empowering Consumers in the Green Transition Directive and the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, both currently under the proposal.
- The Green Claims Directive aims at ensuring that any claims not covered by other EU legislation shall be supported by verifiable and audited claims (certification schemes), by even introducing penalties to companies and traders not complying with its measures
- An example of an explicit environmental claim subject to this Directive could be “packaging made of 30% recycled plastics”, where the claim is not supported by verifiable and audited claims (certification schemes), not covered by any EU legislation, and made on a voluntary basis from businesses to consumers.
- The proposal is a key instrument to deliver on the Green Deal’s objective of a tangible transition towards the circular economy. The Directive’s ambition is to ensure that any green claims made on products placed on the market must be reliable, comparable, and verifiable across the EU.
- This will allow consumers to make informed decisions on the choice of products while providing measures to avoid greenwashing practices.
What does the proposal cover?
The proposal instructs companies to comply with minimum requirements when substantiating and communicating green claims. The Green Claims Directive set labelling requirements where no other EU legislation is available. Products targeted by EU law are exempted by the rules set by the Green Claims Directive, and include the EU Ecolabel, organic production, energy efficiency and energy-related labelling, marketing of construction products, fuels economy and CO2 emissions, batteries, packaging and packaging waste, sustainable investments, carbon removals, and financial statements, among others.
Who will carry out the verification of green claims?
Most of the measures are addressed for the Member States (MS) to create or reorganize existing Competent Authorities (CAs) to set up monitoring, verification, and penalty mechanisms on explicit claims not complying with Union, national or regional environmental labelling schemes and regulations. These CAs verify the assessment process carried out by a verifier (accredited third-party conformity assessment body) to check whether the substantiation and communication of the explicit environmental claims (this bottle contains 30% recycled content) are in compliance, or whether the environmental labelling scheme (certification scheme which certifies that a product, a process or a trader complies with the requirements for an environmental label) comply with the Green Claims Directive. Environmental labels are defined as sustainability labels covering only or predominantly environmental aspects of a product, a process, or a trader.
After the entry into force, a MS cannot approve any new environmental labelling schemes established by public authorities, but only by private operators if those schemes provide added value in terms of their environmental ambition, including coverage of environmental impacts, environmental aspects or environmental performance, or of a certain product group or sector and their ability to support the green transition of SMEs, as compared to the existing schemes. All other new environmental labelling schemes will be adopted under Union law.
When is possible to use environmental labels (green claims)?
Environmental labels are permissible only where these are “significant” from a life-cycle perspective, to avoid any claims stemming simply from the product complying with national or Union legislation. For a product not covered by existing legislation on labelling to be considered “green”, it shall be possible to identify specific environmental impacts and aspects that contribute significantly to the overall environmental performance of a product or a trader.
The overall impact assessment must be conducted taking into account the life-cycle, including from, but not limited to, studies based on Environmental Footprint (EF) methods, provided that these are complete on the impacts relevant to the product category and do not omit any important environmental impacts. This means that the PEF methodology is only one instrument to assess the real environmental impact of a green claim made on a product, but others are welcomed, provided they are science-based, use company-specific data (primary data and, only if not available, secondary data), and not overlook any environmental impacts.
Green claims and future objectives
Claims on future achievements by a company or a product, for example, ‘climate neutral’ or ‘net zero’ are not allowed without clear, objective, and verifiable independent monitoring. Green claims must prioritise improvements in the supply chain, not offsets (and the same applies to carbon offsetting not addressed by the carbon removals EU legislation).
1 Claims outside the scope of the Directive include the EU Ecolabel, organic production, energy efficiency and energy-related labelling, marketing of construction products, fuels economy and CO2 emissions, batteries, packaging and packaging waste, sustainable investments, carbon removals, and financial statements, among others.