European Union: Environmental Marketing In Europe

Last Updated: 22 October 2008

Article by Avv. Felix Hofer1

The European Approach

Up till now the Europe Union did not issue a set of harmonizing principles and rules meant to specifically govern 'environmental/green marketing'.

The main reason for such approach was not disinterest from the EU's institutional bodies towards the issue, but probably the conviction of being the traditional regulations on commercial communication perfectly suitable to cover this specific area in a sufficient and proper way.

In fact, these provisions had already established a number of basic principles requiring all commercial communication to:

  • not be misleading to the targeted public2,
  • be "readily recognizable as such and be distinguishable from editorial content" (and all surreptitious promotional messages to be explicitly banned)3,
  • not encourage behaviour grossly prejudicial to the protection of the environment4,
  • not to result in a misleading commercial practice5, a result that would occur any time:
  • «it contains false information and is therefore untruthful or in any way, including overall presentation, deceives or is likely to deceive the average consumer, even if the information is factually correct, in relation to one or more of the following elements..: (a)..the nature of the product, (b) its...main characteristics...such as its availability, benefits, risks, execution, composition, accessories, .. method and date of manufacture or provision, delivery, fitness for purpose, usage, .. or the results to be expected from its use»6,
  • «it omits material information that the average consumer needs, according to the context»7, where «information requirements established by Community law in relation to commercial communication including advertising or marketing, a non-exhaustive list of which is contained in Annex II, shall be regarded as material»8.

Obviously the EU did not miss the fact that environmental aspects had become more and more relevant for a very broad range of areas, impacting with significant (and frequently) negative effects both, on contextual natural elements (polluting air, water, soil, nature in general) as well as on manufacturing processes (e.g. energy sources and consumption, carbon emissions, etc) and on products' life cycle, their – or their components' - waste management and disposal.

The EU Commission's Directorates General also realized that 'green advertising' resulted in a very appealing marketing tool to an increasing number of companies: to those trying to reach out to an environmental conscious target public as well as to those involved in particularly critical manufacturing processes (and therefore intensely seeking to improve their corporate image with the general public).

This additional aspect brought the issue of environmental claims (and of their control) into play. To the purpose a research project was assigned9 for preparing appropriate guidelines to be considered by advertisers when using such claims in their campaigns. The project's final report (dated December 2000) basically recommended that environmental claims should refer and adhere to the principles and indication of the ISO international standards10 on 'Eco-Labelling'.

Following this path the Nordic Consumer Ombudsmen11 in 2005 decided that time had come for giving their earlier - in 1994 - adopted joint guidelines on 'Environmentally Oriented Claims in Marketing' a refresh, considering that «a greater awareness of environmental issues, working conditions and social responsibility has led an increasing number of consumers to take these aspects into consideration when shopping», while «companies often wish to express and display their concern and awareness of the importance of these issues in their marketing activities».

The revisited guidelines set as key principles for environmental marketing claims that all promotional messages:

  1. must be accurate and balanced (i.e. making clear whether claims, refer to a company's entire products' range or only to some of them, to the packaging or other aspects, and avoiding exaggeration on positive environmental impact),
  2. should accurately consider the overall impression they convey to the general public, making sure that such impression is based on facts,
  3. need to be phrased in a transparent and not misleading way and must be able to offer proper substantiation on their claims (possibly making the documents apt to sustain ethical claims publicly available, e.g. on the company's website or in its corporate information),
  4. should use particular caution when referring to environmental and ethical labels, where self-declared marks should pay attention to avoid any potential confusion with official marks (in such cases on all advertising material as well as on packaging there should always appear a reference to where detailed information about the used label system is available).

After its initially 'non-intrusive' approach the EU Commission is now taking a far more pro-active position and has recently adopted a specific Action Plan12, aimed at «promoting sustainable production and consumption» by individuating the following list of goals to be achieved:

(i) A new framework for environmental product policy in order to push resource efficient and eco-friendly products and raise the level of consumer awareness on the issue, through:

  • increasing the existing eco-design requirements by extending them to all energy related products and favouring «voluntary benchmarks of environmental performance»,
  • reinforcing energy and environmental labelling through both, covering a broader range of products through mandatory labelling as well as favouring and promoting the use of the voluntary EU Eco-label,
  • making financial incentives conditional on the achievement of a certain level of energy or environmental performance and promoting Green Public Procurement,
  • focusing on producers', retailers' and consumers' education (also by sharing data and research on environmental performance and impact of products and discussing these aspects in open forums)

(ii) Providing a further impetus to promote resource efficient and eco-innovative production, through:

  • boosting resource efficiency (i.e. more value by using fewer resources),
  • supporting eco-innovation (also by establishing a reliable third-party verification of the environmental performance of new technologies),
  • enhancing the environmental potential of industry,
  • revisiting the voluntary EU eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS Regulation),
  • creating a friendly regulatory environment for the development of environmental industries in the EU (with a special focus on Small and Medium Size Enterprises),

(iii) Contributing to sustainable consumption and production internationally, through:

  • supporting both industry sectors in developing agreements for achieving specific emission reductions or energy efficiency targets as well as businesses intending to commit to reductions of greenhouse gas emissions,
  • promoting sustainable consumption and production policies (SCP) and sharing good practices on an international level,
  • creating a friendly legal environment for international trade in environmental goods and services,

(iv) Performing concrete efforts for gains in efficiency and cost reduction,

(v) Finally proposing a specific road map for initiatives to be taken at the legislative level:

  • extension of the Eco-design Directive,
  • revision of the: Eco-label and EMAS Regulation, Energy Efficiency Labelling Directive,
  • preparing a Communication on Green Public Procurement, and
  • draft proposal for a Regulation of an Environmental Technology Verification Scheme.

While a significant number of the EU's Action Plan initiatives will touch and affect environmental marketing in some way (e.g. the revisited Eco-Label Regulation and Energy Labelling Directive, the EMAS Regulation and the proposed Environmental Technology Verification Scheme), it doesn't seem likely that a specific set of rules aimed at governing 'green advertising' is in the EU legislators' minds.

In all the countries throughout Europe not having in their legal framework specific regulations governing 'environmental marketing', practices commonly known as 'Green Washing' will therefore have to be prevented through the traditional provisions on commercial communication.

Harmonization on an International Level: an alternative way.

Notwithstanding the fact that there is no specific legal framework on an EU level providing a set of rules focusing explicitly on environmental marketing, there have been performed several efforts in order to achieve a harmonized approach to the particular topic.

These efforts show as a common intent the aim of introducing unified general principles, which 'green advertising' should obey to in more or less extended geographic areas.

In this context reference was already made to the Scandinavian countries in Northern Europe13, which since 1994 felt the need to introduce specific coordinated guidelines on 'Environmentally Oriented Claims in Marketing', jointly issued by the Nordic Consumer Ombudsmen.

An even more significant attempt (given its extensive impact on almost all advertising self-regulation systems established in Europe and even on a wider scale) for coming up with a harmonized set of rules was performed by the Commission on Marketing, Advertising and Distribution of the International Chamber of Commerce14, which drafted and then published – in June 2001 - the ICC International Code of Environmental Advertising, nowadays integrated into the Consolidated Code of Advertising and Marketing Communication Practice15.

This Consolidated Code contains an entire Section (Chapter E) on Environmental Claims in Marketing Communication, where such claims are defined as any «explicit or implicit reference ... to environmental or ecological aspects relating to the production, packaging, distribution, use/consumption or disposal of products», unconditional of the medium or the placement (e.g. packaging, labelling, point-of-sale) used for diffusing the promotional message to the targeted public.

According to the Code's provisions, environmental marketing:

  • has to be honest and truthful (excessively vague, non-specific or not up to date claims should therefore be avoided),
  • when making reference to technical demonstrations or scientific findings about environmental impact, is required to be backed by reliable scientific evidence,
  • when involving claims of 'environmental superiority' over competitors, is also to be backed by particularly accurate substantiation on existence of 'significant advantages',
  • has to pay particular attention on avoiding undue innuendo to «more stages of a product's life-cycle, or to more of its properties, than is justified by the evidence»,
  • should make use of «environmental signs or symbols ...only when the source of those signs or symbols is clearly indicated and there is no likelihood of confusion over their meaning»,
  • finally, when using claims on 'waste handling' has to ascertain that «the recommended method of separation, collection, processing or disposal is generally accepted or conveniently available to a reasonable proportion of consumers in the area concerned» (with the additional obligation of accurately indicating the extent of availability, should such premise not occur).

Due to the authoritativeness of the ICC, this general principles have always exercised deep influence on the provisions of most advertising self-regulation systems (frequently drafted after the ICC Code's scheme) and have also been considered as useful and valid reference criteria by Courts, when called to assess correctness and good practices in lawsuits dealing with unfair, misleading, illicit comparative or deceptive marketing practices.

Legal Frameworks on a National Level

In the view of achieving at least a rough, general idea about the different approaches to 'environmental marketing' in various European countries as well as on – sometimes quite - differing provisions governing this topic, a short and concise inquiry was performed during the Summer.

This initiative was certainly not meant (neither pretending) to offer an in depth and extensive inside look on the details of 'environmental marketing' in the jurisdictions addressed, but rather tries to provide a sample excerpt, high lightening the substantial level of differing sensitiveness towards the topic to be found in various geographic areas/regions throughout Europe.

On these – very limited - premises the survey was intended to find out:

  • whether in the addressed countries' legal framework there were or not provisions available specifically governing 'environmental marketing',
  • whether those provisions were eventually set by Statute Law or by Self-Regulation,
  • which key principles had to be found as the rationale inspiring these provisions,
  • whether in absence of specific provisions the topic was somehow considered by the principles and criteria governing advertising in general,
  • how some very common environmental claims (widely used in commercial communication) would be perceived locally and considered by domestic watchdogs,
  • which courts or special authorities would come into play with respect to supervising 'environmental claims' and preventing advertisers' eventual illicit conduct.

Credits for the various country contributions are owed – together with my personal thankfulness for contributing on a very short notice and during the vacation period – to my colleagues, members to the Global Advertising Lawyers' Alliance16, who have kindly provided the answers to the questions above.

Without going into too many details a summarizing overview seems to offer the following indications with respect to the reactions gathered on the questionnaire circulated among the foreign colleagues:

  • in most countries adhering to the Civil Law system, 'environmental marketing' will certainly have to take into due consideration Statute Law provisions governing commercial communication in general (i.e. the principles of honesty, truthfulness, correctness and capability of claim substantiation) as well as the rules meant to prevent unfair competition and incorrect commercial practices,
  • in a significant number of countries both, of Common Law as well as of Civil Law self-regulation will additionally provide strict rules explicitly focusing on 'environmental claims',
  • inaccurate, excessively vague or generic 'environmental claims' are likely to face reaction from domestic control authorities in most countries,
  • environmental campaigns performed in countries members to the EU will furthermore have to properly consider sector specific rules as the Eco-Label Regulation and the Energy Labelling Directive.


To conclude some short comments on the likely impact of the situation as exposed above on the economic interests and the legal aspects of businesses involved in or associated with 'environmental marketing'.

Basic question seems to consist in assessing whether the increased relevance currently assigned to practices known under the definition of 'Green Advertising' is simply to be considered as a cyclic phase of a trend that's been going on for decades, periodically bringing environmental issues into a particular focus: let's just recall the period of the "Flower-Power" movement or the periodic hypes on catch terms and claims like "natural", "bio-something", "organic" and "XYZ...-friendly"17. Or are we facing not just something that one can light heartedly classify as the latest "Eco-Freak" trend, but a phenomenon deemed to perform a way more significant – if not crucial – impact for a wider area of business sectors?

In my very personal opinion Industry and Business will have to take very careful into account how and to which extent both, the implications of current and upcoming legislation, governing 'environment sensitive' activities, as well as the changing attitude of control authorities and of the general public towards such issues are likely to reflect on their products and services.

It goes without saying that I'm certainly not revealing anything new by stressing how consistently consideration and evaluation in economical terms of intangible assets and immaterial rights have explosively increased in recent times. More and more those assets are perceived as 'core values' for many companies' business activities and therefore become the object of fierce legal battles with respect to ownership or defence of the respective rights.

As a consequence of this undeniable development legal experts need to seriously question themselves on whether the existing technical instruments (established for protecting Intellectual Property, in its typically and traditionally accepted meanings) are still sufficiently valid and efficient to cover all categories of intangible assets (especially some new ones, only recently correctly perceived in their exact relevance).

Companies' Management is well aware of the fact that concern is no longer just about infringement of copyright, trademarks, patents, and licenses. "Brand image", "brand positioning", "corporate image", "consumer confidence and trust" - to mention just those which immediately come to our minds – are unquestionably also 'intangible assets' of immense economic value and importance. A quick thought on a number of recent pitfalls occurred to some major brands delivers a neat idea on how disastrous and costly mismanagement of such 'immaterial assets' can easily result. It doesn't take much to figure out how superficial mistakes or incorrect practices in 'environmental marketing' may affect - in an extremely painful way - a 'brand image' for a significant period, driving consumers confidence and interest away from a certain product or service.

From a different perspective it appears quite obvious that increasing legal provisions, adding more and more requirements on detailed information with respect to products' manufacturing processes (and the respective side effects as: pollution, emission, waste management, etc.), their components, cautions to adopt during their use, their disposal at the end of their life cycle are on a clearly crashing route with companies' needs relating to protecting of inventions, innovation and trade secrets.

This – quite serious - conflict appears to be just in its beginning stadium, but is likely to develop soon in a harsh confrontation between crashing interests.

Legal experts may be well advised by the recommendation to start thinking about how to deal with such problems and with several new aspects of Intellectual Property.


1. Felix Hofer is a naming partner of Florence (Italy) based law firm Hofer – Lösch – Torricelli; contact him at

2. According to EU Directive no. 450 of 1984 (Section 3/a) the respective evaluation of the promotional message would have to take into due account «...any information ...concerning: (a) the characteristics of goods or services, such as their availability, nature, execution, composition, method and date of manufacture or provision, fitness for purpose, uses, quantity, specification, geographical or commercial origin or the results to be expected from their use, or the results and material features of tests or checks carried out on the goods or services; ...».

3. The principle was already contained in Directive no. 552 of 1989 (so-called 'TV without Frontiers Directive') and has been entirely confirmed by the recent Directive no. 65 of 2007 (due to be implemented by EU member states by December 19th, 2009, amending the previous Directive no. 89/552 and adapting it to the needs of modern Audiovisual Media Services); see specifically Section 3e/1(a) of the 2007 Directive.

4. So Section 3e/1/c/iv of EU Directive no. 65 of 2007; in addition Section 3/k/13 explicitly confirms the requirements of 'transparency' and 'immediate perception' for all Television adverting and Teleshopping promotional messages.

5. As defined by EU Directive no. 29 of 2005 (concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market and amending Council Directive 84/450/EEC, Directives 97/7/EC, 98/27/EC and 2002/65/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Regulation (EC) no. 2006/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council).

6. So Section 6/1 of Directive no. 29 of 2005.

7. So Section 7/1 of Directive no. 29 of 2005.

8. So Section 7/5 of Directive no. 29 of 2005; Annex I lists – among others - as unfair practices the following: «(2) Displaying a trust mark, quality mark or equivalent without having obtained the necessary authorization, ...(11) Using editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear in the content or by images or sounds clearly identifiable by the consumer (advertorial), (12) Making a materially inaccurate claim concerning the nature and extent of the risk to the personal security of the consumer or his family if the consumer does not purchase the product.».

9. By EU Commission - Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection (contract no. B5-1000/99/000051) to Spanish and Barcelona based company ECA S.A.

10. Specific reference is to ISO 14020:1999 (General principles for environmental labels and declarations), ISO 14021: 1999 (Self-declared claims for environmental labels and declarations – so-called 'Type II environmental labeling'), ISO 14024:1999 (Principles and procedure for environmental labels and declarations by third party certification – so-called 'Type I environmental labeling'), ISO/TR 14025:2000, in the following revisited by ISO 14025:2006 (Principles and procedures for environmental labels and declarations – so-called Type III environmental impact declarations); nowadays consider also ISO 14040: 2006 (Principles and framework for environmental management - Life cycle assessment – LCA) and ISO 14044: 2006 (Environmental management - Life cycle assessment - Requirements and guidelines) and others of the ISO 140xx series.

11. For detailed information refer to: in Sweden, Konsumentverket/KO at; in Norway, Forbrukerombudet/FO at; in Finland, Konsumentombudsmannen at; in Denmark, Forbrugerombudsmanden at

12. See Press Release MEMO/08/507 of July 16th, 2008.

13. Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, see point 1.3. above.

14. For details refer to the ICC's website at the following URL:

15. Adopted and published in September 2006.

16. For detailed information on the GALA network and on the resources available on the association's website refer to the following URL:

17. Reference is clearly not to the technical-legal definitions of those terms, rather to their phrasing, meaning and use for promotional and marketing purposes.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.