A Step Forward In Green Marketing Regulation: EU Directives Target Greenwashing And Strengthen Requirements For The Use Of Green Claims And Environmental Labels

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At a time when consumers have become increasingly aware of sustainability issues, it is sometimes difficult to find one's way through the various green claims and environmental labels.
Belgium Media, Telecoms, IT, Entertainment
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At a time when consumers have become increasingly aware of sustainability issues, it is sometimes difficult to find one's way through the various green claims and environmental labels. Recognising this challenge, the European Union has recently enacted a Directive aimed at empowering consumers with the information needed to make sustainable choices: Directive 2024/825, which amends existing Directives 2005/29/EC and 2011/83/EU to promote sustainable consumption practices and (better) regulate the information that traders must provide to consumers (the "Empowering Consumers Directive"). To complement it, the European Commission is currently working on a new proposal for a Directive on substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims (the "Green Claims Directive Proposal"). This note briefly explains both.

1. The Empowering Consumers Directive

Clear Communication: Blacklist extension and Harmonised Labels

The Empowering Consumers Directive stresses the importance of clear communication between professionals and consumers, and for consumers to have better information about products' environmental and social aspects.

To this end, the Empowering Consumers Directive strengthens and extends the general ban on misleading environmental claims. For instance, the blacklist of unfair commercial practices has been extended to include and combat greenwashing and programmed obsolescence. As a result, generic environmental claims for which the professional is unable to demonstrate the excellent environmental performance recognised regarding the claim (for example, "climate-friendly" or "environmentally friendly") or environmental claims concerning the product as a whole, when they relate only to one of the product's characteristics, are prohibited. Similarly, in certain cases, claims of carbon neutrality obtained through carbon offsetting will be deemed unfair. The Empowering Consumers Directive also prohibits the use of sustainable development labels not based on official certification.

Consumer Empowerment: Comprehensive Information and Reparability Scores

Several amendments have been introduced to Directive 2011/83/EU concerning consumer rights. Accordingly, producers or traders will have to provide comprehensiveinformation on product durability, repairability and software updates, enabling consumers to make informed choices. Additionally, traders are encouraged to provide repairability scores for goods, fostering transparency and incentivising producers to design more repairable products.

Effective Date

Member States must transpose the Empowering Consumers Directive into national law by March 2026 and implement the measures adopted from September 2026. It should be borne in mind that certain environmental claims and commercial practices may already be declared illegal, even though the Greenwashing Directive has not yet been transposed, based on the current general prohibition of unfair and misleading practices.

2. Green Claims Directive Proposal

The proposal for a Directive on Green Claims aims to strengthen requirements for environmental claims by imposing minimum criteria for justification and requiring independent verification for environmental labelling schemes. This proposal is still subject to debate and approval by both the European Parliament and the Council.

Specific Requirements for the use of explicit and comparative claims

One of this proposal's aims is to put an end to explicit or comparative environmental claims that are inaccurate, misleading or unsubstantiated. The proposed Directive would establish detailed rules on the substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims about products in business-to-consumer commercial practices; for example, a company should specify if the claim concerns the whole product or part of it, or if the claim concerns all of a company's activities or only some of them. In addition, comparative environmental claims would also have to comply with specific requirements, such as using equivalent information and data for the assessment.

The prohibition of environmental labels unless they have been awarded under environmental labelling schemes established under EU law

Another major objective is to prevent the use of unreliable and unsubstantiated labels. The proposal would also set requirements for environmental labelling schemes (i.e. certification schemes that certify that a product, process or company complies with the requirements of an environmental label). The consequence of these requirements would be that labels presenting an assessment or rating for a product or company on the basis of an aggregate indicator representing cumulative environmental impacts would be prohibited, unless they have been awarded under environmental labelling schemes established under EU law.

3. Conclusion

In conclusion, the Consumer Empowerment Directive and the Green Claims Directive Proposal are a first step towards regulating green marketing practices, combating greenwashing, and promoting consumer confidence. For producers and retailers, complying with the Consumer Empowerment Directive (and subsequently, if it is adopted, the Green Claims Directive Proposal) depends on the presence of transparent, objective and verifiable environmental claims. Therefore, producers and retailers should already be taking account of this legislation to align their marketing strategies with these requirements. After all, by adopting these principles, they could not only mitigate legal risks, but also cultivate long-term relationships of trust with consumers.

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.

A Step Forward In Green Marketing Regulation: EU Directives Target Greenwashing And Strengthen Requirements For The Use Of Green Claims And Environmental Labels

Belgium Media, Telecoms, IT, Entertainment

Contributor

An independent Belgian law firm, ALTIUS knows the Belgian and European legal scene inside-out. Pragmatic, professional and personal, every lawyer on the 90-plus team brings their own brand of passion and expertise to the job at hand. At ALTIUS, we do legal differently.
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