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EU to tighten rules on environmental claims

young woman with glasses smiling
3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Flags in front of the European Commission Berlaymont building in Brussels, Belgium

Companies operating in the EU might soon have to back up environmental claims on their products with evidence, according to new draft rules being proposed by the European Commission.

The Commission’s Green Claims Directive wants to help consumers make better informed decisions and put an end to greenwashing.

According to the proposal, companies will need scientific-based evidence to include claims such as ‘climate neutral’, ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘100% CO2 compensated’ on front-of-pack labels.

Businesses must have carried out an assessment on their products to be able to use such claims. This should analyse the total environmental impact of the product – including the effect of a product throughout its life-cycle, as well as information on the trader and their activities.

An accredited verifier with no relation to the company must also inspect the claim before delivering a ‘certificate of conformity’ which then allows them to print the environmental labels on their products.

To ensure transparency, products will also need to have a weblink or QR code to allow consumers to access a website containing all the information on the product and its trader that can back up the environmental claims made. The information provided on this website must be available in at least one of the member state languages, the proposal notes.

Any company failing to comply could face penalties, such as fines – which increase upon repeated infringement – confiscation of revenues, and even short-term exclusion for up to 12 months from public procurement processes and access to public funding, as well as tendering procedures, concessions and grants. Such penalties will need to be enforced by EU member states.

Micro-enterprises with fewer than 10 employees and a yearly turnover of under €2 million will be exempt from the proposal.

According to a 2020 report carried out by the Commission which analysed a sample of 150 environmental claims on a variety of products, over 53% were described as giving “vague, misleading or unfounded information about products’ environmental characteristics across the EU”. Some 40% of the claims were unsubstantiated, the study says.

The proposal has been praised by some, including European consumer group BEUC who have campaigned for the ban of carbon-neutral claims in the past. The legislation however also been critiqued for pushing the use of the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) methodology and life cycle assessments to analyse the environmental impact of products. Some NGOs such as ZeroWasteEurope have said the PEF tool relies too much on measuring carbon and therefore ignores the larger range of environmental impacts a product may have.

The popularity of transparent environmental labels is growing. Denmark and the Netherlands have been working on improving eco labels, with the former announcing plans to spend DDK 9 million on introducing a state-controlled system and the latter looking to bring in labels that measure the carbon footprint and green credentials of food.

Earlier this month, food and drink packaging giant Tetra Pak also called on the Government to make such labels mandatory on food and drink packaging in the UK.

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