Companies will have 10 days to substantiate green claims about their products or face “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” penalties under an EU crackdown on greenwashing bill seen by the Guardian.
Exaggerated claims by companies about the environmental good faith of their products have grown along with public awareness of global warming in recent years.
A 2020 EU survey found that 53% of environmental product claims were “vague, misleading or unsubstantiated”. Authorities suspected that 42% of green products were “fake or misleading” in another survey the same year.
Greenwashing claims may circulate in a wild west market environment for now, but the substantiated green claims directive due in March will force companies to comply with a new legal framework.
The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) said it strongly supports the plan to strengthen market surveillance authorities to combat greenwash. But “a future EU green claims law will only be as good as its enforcement,” said BEUC director Monique Goyens. “Authorities should regularly monitor green claims, publicly disclose their findings and be able to fine companies that mislead consumers.”
The leaked directive does not take a position on what penalties the 27 EU countries should apply.
Goyens said that phrases like “climate positive” and “carbon neutral” should be “banned from the market entirely”.
The commission declined to comment on the leaked draft, which says it expects the law to save the equivalent of up to 7 million tonnes of CO2.two emissions over a period of 15 years.
An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that, along with a proposed consumer empowerment directive, the green claims law “should clean up the environmental claims market, where it’s a bit loose and extravagant compared to what manufacturers say about their products (and reality). These proposals could improve that dramatically.”
More than 200 eco-labels are currently used in the EU, based on different methodologies. A commission survey found that half of label verification procedures were weak or absent.
British companies exporting to the EU would have to follow new green claims rules, which the commission expects to cost EU companies €9bn to €10bn (£7.9bn to £8.8bn), it said. the employee.
While the UK and France already have rules for misleading green ads, the UK code does not fully define what constitutes an “unfounded claim” and the French rules focus on climate issues – such as “carbon neutrality” – rather than general sustainability issues, according to Antoine Oger, head of the global challenges program at the Institute for European Environmental Policy.
By comparison, the new directive is defined as “the most specific and comprehensive, as it should set out clear definitions of what constitute ecological claims and their violation, together with precise criteria on how to substantiate and enforce such claims,” he said. he said.
It forces companies to substantiate green claims using a standardized product lifecycle analysis that covers all environmental impacts, with key data – including a certificate of compliance – publicly available via QR code or a web link.
EU states will have to empower or create new agencies to launch investigations, carry out regular checks and generally enforce the new law, the draft says.
Some experts warned that the leaked proposal did not regulate the type of “carbon removal” method that could be accepted in offset schemes.
After the Guardian revealed that more than 90% of so-called carbon credits used by companies such as Shell were largely worthless, hopes were high that the initiative would plug a hole left by another proposed EU green deal bill. to certify COtwo removals.
But the new regime would still allow fossil fuel companies to “offset” their emissions through CO2.two clearing projects such as forests that have a high risk of reversal due to trees decaying, burning or moving north due to global warming.
Eli Mitchell-Larson, co-founder of the NGO Carbon Gap, said: “These laws remaining silent on what companies that buy EU certified removals can do with them would be like inviting students to correct their own homework. It’s very simple: the vast majority of removals today involve storing carbon in nature. Despite their merits, these should never give you a free ticket to burn fossil fuels.”
Business groups have also raised concerns that the initiative could be confused with other EU legislation on combating greenwashing.
“The EU has to avoid the real risk of overlapping and contradicting existing initiatives,” said Pedro Oliveira, director of legal affairs at BusinessEurope. “The European business community expects the EU to carefully consider and substantiate any additional rules in this already regulated space in the spirit of ‘better regulation’.”
The EU official said there was some overlap with other green deal proposals because commission staff were originally instructed to prepare legislative files on similar matters for different commissioners.