The european commision green claims directive - Bluesign
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The european commission green claims directive

Among the many new initiatives being prepared by legislative bodies across the globe, the European Commission’s far-reaching Green Deal initiative has recently seen the tabling of their Green Claims Directive. It calls for greater regulation of all environmental claims, through certification by an accredited body. This represents a major shift and moves the topic of ‘sustainability” from, what has often been little more than a marketing slogan to an essential brand commitment and purpose.

This bluesign® ACADEMY White Paper provides an overview of the Directive. If you would like to speak to us about forthcoming regulatory change please contact us at bluesign@academy.com

OVERVIEW

  • The European Green Deal tackles false environmental claims by ensuring that buyers receive reliable, comparable, and verifiable information to make more sustainable decisions and to reduce ‘green washing’.
  • European Commission (EC) wants environmental claims based on environmental impacts along products’ life cycles to be substantiated.
  • EC will regulate use of environmental claims by establishing solid and harmonized calculation methods covering the full value chain.

CLAIMS

MISLEADING CLAIMS: THE SCALE OF THE PROBLEM

  • In spite of consumers’ willingness to contribute to a greener and more circular economy this is hampered by a lack of trust in the credibility of environmental claims and the proliferation of misleading commercial practices related to the environmental sustainability of products.
  • Greenwashing and lack of transparency and credibility of environmental labels, occur at various stages of the consumption journey.
  • The European Commission’s 2020 study found that of environmental claims 53.3% provide vague, misleading, or unfounded information about products’ environmental characteristics across the EU and across a wide range of product categories.
  • 40% of environmental claims were unsubstantiated by verifiable evidence.
  • Of 344 sustainability claims assessed by EU Member State Consumer Protection authorities, in 57.5% instances the claim’s accuracy could not be judged.
  • In 50% of cases Member State Authorities had difficulties identifying whether claims covered the whole product or only one of its components
  • In 36% of cases, whether it referred to the company or only certain products, and:
  • In 75% of cases which stage of the products lifecycle it covered (75%).
  • Most stakeholders consulted agreed that greenwashing is a problem, with the noticeable exception of industry representatives

FRAMEWORK FOR FUTURE CLAIMS

The proposal requires that in future explicit environmental claims shall be based on an assessment that at minimum is defined by criteria that are not misleading, and that the claim:

  • relies on recognized scientific evidence and state of the art technical knowledge;
  • demonstrates the significance of impacts, aspects, and performance from a life-cycle perspective;
  • accounts for all significant aspects and impacts to assess the performance
  • demonstrates whether the claim is accurate for the whole product or only for parts of it (for the whole life cycle or only for certain stages, for all the trader’s activities or only a part of them);
  • demonstrates that the claim is not equivalent to requirements imposed by law;

provides information on whether the product performs environmentally significantly better than what is common practice;

  •  identifies whether a positive achievement leads to significant worsening of another impact;
  • requires greenhouse gas offsets to be reported in a transparent manner;
  •  includes accurate primary or secondary information.

LABELLING

ENVIRONMENTAL LABELLING: THE ISSUES

 (Environmental labels: i.e., those covering predominantly environmental aspects of a product or trader)

An assessment of 232 active ecolabels in the EU also examined their verification and certification aspects and concluded that almost half of the labels’ verification was either weak or not carried out.

Over a quarter (27%) of participants said “the proliferation and/or lack of transparency/ understanding/reliability of sustainability logos/labels on products and services” was an obstacle to empowering consumers.

34% of businesses identified the “the proliferation and/or lack of transparency / understanding / reliability of sustainability logos / labels” as an obstacle.

Companies that make the effort to adhere to or develop reliable environmental labelling schemes are disadvantaged compared to companies that use unreliable environmental labels as consumers often cannot tell the difference.

Companies that offer truly sustainable products are disadvantaged compared to those that do not.

FRAMEWORK FOR FUTURE LABELLING

The mechanism that will be used to ensure that in future, environmental labelling is neither vague, misleading, nor unfounded, will be through an amendment to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. It will:

  • List product characteristics about which a trader should not deceive a consumer is to include ‘environmental or social impact, ‘durability’ and ‘reparability’.
  • The list of actions which are to be considered misleading if they cause or are likely to cause the average consumers to take a transactional decision that they would not have otherwise taken, ‘making an environmental claim related to future environmental performance without clear, objective, and verifiable commitments and targets and an independent monitoring system.
  • The list of unfair commercial practices will expand to include:
  • Displaying a sustainability label which is not based on a certification scheme or not established by public authorities.
  • Making a generic environmental claim for which the trader is not able to demonstrate recognized excellent environmental performance relevant to the claim.
  • Making an environmental claim about the entire product when it concerns only a certain aspect of the product.
  • Presenting requirements imposed by law on all products in the relevant product category on the Union market as a distinctive feature of the trader’s offer.
  • The proposal is for a stand-alone legal instrument that …sets a framework for the substantiation of voluntary environmental claims.
  • Member States shall provide that penalties and measures for infringements of this Directive shall include:-
  • fines which effectively deprive those responsible of the economic benefits derived from their infringements, and increasing the level of such fines for repeated infringements;
  • confiscation of revenues gained by the trader from a transaction with the relevant products concerned;
  • temporary exclusion for a maximum period of 12 months from public procurement processes and from access to public funding, including tendering procedures, grants, and concessions.
  • The maximum amount of such fines being at least at 4 % of the trader’s annual turnover in the Member State or Member States concerned.

VERIFICATION

ENSURING IMPARTIAL VERIFICATION OF FUTURE CLAIMS

An entity verifying environmental claims:

  • Shall be a third-party conformity assessment body formally accredited by a nationally recognized certifying entity.
  • Accreditation given to a claim shall be based upon an evaluation in compliance with the requirements in below:
  • the verifier shall be independent of the product bearing, or the trader associated to, the environmental claim;
  • the verifier, its top-level management, and the personnel responsible for carrying out the verification tasks shall not engage in any activity that may conflict with their independence of judgement or integrity in relation to the verification activities;
  • the verifier and its personnel shall carry out the verification activities with the highest degree of professional integrity and the requisite technical competence and shall be free from all pressures and inducements, particularly financial, which might influence their judgement or the results of their verification activities,
  •  the verifier shall have the expertise, equipment and infrastructure required to perform the verification activities in relation to which it has been accredited; 
  • the verifier shall have a sufficient number of suitably qualified and experienced personnel responsible for carrying out the verification tasks;
  • the personnel of a verifier shall observe professional secrecy with regard to all information obtained in carrying out the verification tasks;
  • where a verifier subcontracts specific tasks connected with verification or has recourse to a subsidiary, it shall take full responsibility for the tasks performed by subcontractors or subsidiaries and shall assess and monitor the qualifications of the subcontractor or the subsidiary and the work carried out by them. 

TIMING

As a first step, the Directive is to be put before the European Parliament. No date has been set for this.

Once signed, the Directive:

  • is to be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and will come into force on the 20th day following publication.
  • if signed in early 2024, it is then to be transposed into the law of the Member States during and start-up period over a two-year period from 2024 onwards.
  • is to be in full scale operation across the EU is scheduled thereafter.

The Directive will be in force for an unlimited duration.