Friday, July 12, 2024

New EU directive targets greenwashing claims on consumer packaged goods

The European Union (EU) is cracking down on greenwashing and imposing stricter regulations on companies that make vague, incomplete, or dishonest claims about their environmental efforts. The EU’s latest directive, known as the “Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition,” is aimed at bolstering consumer protection by putting an end to misleading advertising practices. This move is set to have a substantial impact on the food and beverage (F&B) industry, which has seen a proliferation of products and innovations boasting to be “carbon-neutral” or environmentally friendly.

The directive, having received approval from the EU Council and EC, is pending formal endorsement by the European Parliament and the national parliaments of the EU27 member countries. If all parties give the green light to this initiative, it will become effective in 2026.

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Ursula Pachl, the deputy director-general at the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), lauds the impending ban on carbon-neutral claims as great news for consumers. She emphatically points out, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon-neutral’ or ‘CO2-neutral’ cheese, plastic bottles, flights, or bank accounts. Carbon-neutral claims are greenwashing, plain and simple. It’s a smoke screen giving the impression that companies are taking serious action on their climate impact.”

Pachl further emphasizes, “The truth is that these claims are scientifically incorrect and should never be used. We are delighted to see that the EU has seized this legislative opportunity to ban carbon-neutral claims.”

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Additionally, the new legislation will enforce stricter regulations for other environmental performance claims, permitting them only if they are accompanied by a realistic implementation plan, achievable targets, and regular scrutiny by independent third-party experts. Terms like “carbon-neutral,” “energy-efficient,” “green,” or “biodegradable” will now require substantial evidence to support their usage.

Pachl remarks on the proliferation of such claims, stating, “Generic environmental claims are popping up everywhere, from food to textiles. Consumers end up lost in a jungle of green claims with no clue about which ones are trustworthy.” A recent study by the EC found that a significant proportion (53.3%) of 150 environmental claims assessed in the EU provided vague, misleading, or unsubstantiated information about a product’s environmental attributes.

Pachl highlights the importance of the new rules, saying, “Thankfully, the new rules are putting some order in the green claims’ chaos. Companies will have to explain why a product is environmentally friendly. This is crucial if we are to guide consumers to make more sustainable consumption choices.”

Furthermore, the new directive will prohibit sustainable labels that are not based on certification schemes or established by public authorities. This ban could help reduce the confusion caused by numerous so-called eco-labels being used on various F&B products. The EU’s initiative follows Foundation Earth’s milestone achievement for eco-labeling harmonization in France, where public and private initiatives collaborated.

The Changing Markets Foundation suggests that the ban will increase pressure on suppliers to justify their claims and may even lead them to become more cautious in their environmental claims to avoid misleading consumers.

The new legislation will also introduce additional requirements for transparency regarding repairability and software updates, along with a harmonized guarantee label indicating product durability. It will also prohibit business practices that intentionally shorten the lifespan of products.

Pachl concludes, “The new EU rules will enable consumers to navigate through a sea of green claims and choose durable products that live up to expectations.” According to the EC, 80% of EU consumers find it challenging to access information on product repairability.

Pachl adds, “Consumers have a crucial role to play in the green transition, so it’s good news they will have more information to make sustainable choices when buying food, new clothes, or home appliances. The rules could make more durable products more competitive and incentivize consumers to invest in quality rather than quantity.”

Innova Market Insights has identified “Green but clean” as a top packaging trend this year, with a 92% increase in environmental claims like “carbon impact,” “reduced packaging,” and “plastic-free” on F&B packaging since 2018. However, the proliferation of sustainability messaging has raised concerns about unsubstantiated claims.

India’s path to sustainability
In the context of India, the EU’s proactive measures against greenwashing and the introduction of stringent regulations to combat deceptive environmental claims represent a significant development. As the global community increasingly acknowledges the urgency of addressing climate change and environmental concerns, India too finds itself at the crossroads of sustainable practices and responsible consumer choices.

India, with its rapidly growing economy and burgeoning consumer market, has seen a surge in eco-friendly claims across various industries, including the food and beverage sector. The EU’s directive, “Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition,” sets an important precedent for responsible advertising and consumer protection, which India could consider as it navigates its own path toward sustainability.

The message from the EU is clear: companies must be held accountable for the accuracy of their environmental claims, and consumers should have access to truthful information to make informed choices. In India, where the environmental impact of industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation significantly affects the population, similar measures could contribute to fostering a culture of transparency and sustainability.

As the EU’s directive is expected to have a far-reaching impact on the global market, including products imported into India, it underscores the need for domestic regulations and standards to align with international best practices. This alignment can help Indian consumers make more informed and sustainable choices while encouraging businesses to adopt genuinely eco-friendly practices.

In conclusion, the EU’s stance against greenwashing serves as a valuable lesson for India and other nations. By implementing stringent regulations and promoting responsible advertising, India can play a pivotal role in the global effort to address environmental challenges and empower consumers to support genuine green initiatives. This convergence of efforts on a global scale is essential in achieving a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future for all.

Emily Wilson
Emily Wilson
Based in London, Emily Wilson is an accomplished professional in B2B writing and content creation She serves as the guest editor for The Packman and has been actively contributing to the magazine since February 2023.

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