New EU law empowers consumers against corporate greenwashing

The EEB welcomes the restriction of misleading green claims and labels, but urges action against barriers to repair 

Today, the European Parliament gave its final greenlight to the new Directive on Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition (ECGT). The new law aims to curtail a series of unfair company tactics that prevents consumers from making sustainable choices. The text, agreed upon last autumn in negotiations among EU institutions and member states, is now ready to be transposed into national legislation across the EU. 

Once enforced, the Directive will ban a series of greenwashing tactics, including climate neutral claims, which are among the most misleading green claims on the market. 

Vague green credentials will also be restricted: producers will only be allowed to mark a product as “eco” or “green” when the entire product is truly greener than conventional ones, and certified by a trustworthy scheme such as the EU Ecolabel. In addition, it will not be possible to advertise a product or a company as green if only a minor aspect of the product or business has been made more sustainable. 

More rigorous oversight will also extend to sustainability labels, which will need to be backed up by third-party verification to ensure their credibility and reliability. 

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) welcomed the law as an important step to counter corporate greenwashing: currently, 75% of the products on the EU market carry an implicit or explicit green claim, but more than half of these claims are vague, misleading or unfounded, while almost half of the 230 ecolabels available in the EU have very weak or no verification procedures 

On the other hand, campaigners regret that the EU missed a chance to ban other unfair practices such as early obsolescence and barriers to repair. 

While the new law requires for information on product repairability and durability to be made available to consumers at the point of sales, there are no further obligations to make products more long-lasting or repairable. 

The law also fails to ban early obsolescence, the business practice of intentionally limiting the lifetime of a product to encourage replacement purchase. While it will be forbidden for traders to advertise faulty products to consumers, this will only apply if they are aware of the problem: a condition that will be difficult to prove in practice.

Miriam Thiemann, Policy Officer for Sustainable Consumption at the EEB, said: “This law cuts through the smoke of misleading green marketing, putting a leash on shady claims and boosting the credibility of sustainability labels. People will also have access to more information about the durability and reparability of products before buying them. But we still need stronger rules to make durable, repairable products the norm.

The Directive will now be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. After that, member states will have two years to adopt the new law in their national legislation. 

Campaigners are also closely monitoring the development of additional policies that will complement the provisions of the ECGT Directive. Notably, the Green Claims Directive, which will define what companies should do to prove and communicate green credentials, is yet to undergo negotiations and will unlikely be finalised before the European elections in June. On the other hand, the Right to Repair Initiative is already further along in the process and may be adopted before the elections. Finally, EU negotiators have recently agreed on a new framework to make products sustainable by design (the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation, ESPR), but sector-specific rules will only be developed in the coming years.

New EU law empowers consumers against corporate greenwashing
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