May 9, 2023. In March, the European Commission published proposal for a new directive on the substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims.
The proposal aims to fight greenwashing by establishing clear criteria for companies to demonstrate the truthfulness of the green claims they make. Moreover, the proposal will provide rules on the use of environmental labelling schemes (certification systems based on predefined criteria) with the goal of increasing their transparency.
In fact, a 2020 European Commission study showed that among 150 claims analysed, 53,3% provided vague or misleading information. Additionally, 40% of the claims were unsupported by evidence. Consequently, in most cases, consumers cannot make informed decisions on the purchase of sustainable items, resulting in a lack of trust. Furthermore, in the 2022 impact assessment, the European Commission concluded that there are more than 200 environmental labelling schemes in the EU, and half of them involve weak or no verification.
New requirements for environmental claims
The proposed directive applies to explicit green claims, namely claims in textual form with environmental content, made on a voluntary basis and not covered by other EU laws.
The proposal provides minimum requirements for the substantiation and communication of environmental claims. In particular, companies will have to:
- Specify whether the claims refer to the whole product or part of it (e.g., the packaging only);
- Take into account the product’s life cycle and all relevant environmental impacts and aspects;
- Ensure that what is claimed is not a mere legal requirement (similarly to the legal compliance criterion);
- Use in the assessment both primary (directly collected by the company on the products, namely company-specific data) and secondary information (literature studies, analyses, technical documentation).
Furthermore, national independent accredited bodies (verifiers) will have to verify the substantiation and communication of environmental claims before brands can use them. In the event of a positive assessment, manufacturers will receive a certificate of conformity recognised across the EU.
Companies with less than 10 employees and an annual turnover or balance that does not exceed two million euros are exempted to comply with the above requirements unless they want a certificate of conformity from a verifier.
Environmental labelling schemes
According to the proposed directive, environmental labelling schemes will have to comply with the following requirements:
- The criteria for awarding labels are drawn up by experts and reviewed by stakeholders;
- Information about the ownership, the decision-making bodies and procedures, and the objectives are transparent, publicly available, easy to understand and detailed;
- There must be systems for the resolution of disputes and the suspension and withdrawal of labels in case of non-compliance.
Moreover, Member States will not have the right to create new environmental labels. All new schemes have to be established at the EU level. Additionally, the European Commission will have to approve green labels developed by third countries, and those created by private operators shall receive approval from an EU country.
What is next?
Before the official publication, the proposal directive must go through the ordinary legislative process. Hence, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopt it jointly once they agree on the text.
When the European Commission publishes the directive, each EU Member State will have to implement it within their own legislation. Indeed, directives set the goals to achieve but leave national governments some freedom on how to reach them.
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European Commission. (2023). Proposal for a directive on substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims. Retrieved on 08/05/2023