Substantiating green claims

In “A European Green Deal”

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In its 2019 communication on the European Green Deal, the Commission announced legislative and non-legislative efforts to reduce the risk of false green claims (greenwashing), including by requiring companies to substantiate environmental claims about their products with a standard methodology to assess their impact on the environment. This would provide consumers and other buyers with reliable, comparable and verifiable information on environmental impacts of products. The Commission specified its plans in the 2020 new Circular Economy Action Plan, by announcing that it would present a legislative proposal to require environmental claims to be substantiated by using the EU Product and Organisation Environmental Footprint (PEF and PEO) methods.

In July 2020, the Commission published an inception impact assessment for a legislative proposal on substantiating green claims, planned for the second quarter of 2021. The public consultation took place from August to December 2020. 

Parliament adopted in November 2020 a resolution welcoming the announced legislative proposal on substantiating green claims and calling for the development of clear guidelines and standards for green claims and commitments translating into strengthened eco-label certifications. 

The Commission put forward a proposal for a directive on substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims ('green claims directive') on 22 March 2023. 

The proposed directive would establish minimum requirements on the substantiation and communication of voluntary environmental claims and environmental labelling in business-to-consumer commercial practices, without prejudice to other EU legislation setting out conditions on environmental claims for certain products or sectors. 

The proposal would require that the substantiation of explicit environmental claims is based on an assessment that relies on recognised scientific evidence and state of the art technical knowledge; demonstrates the significance of impacts, aspects and performance from a life-cycle perspective; takes into account all aspects and impacts to assess the performance; demonstrates whether the claim is accurate for the whole product or only for parts of it (for the whole life cycle or only for certain stages, for all the trader’s activities or only a part of them); demonstrates that the claim is not equivalent to requirements imposed by law; provides information on whether the product performs environmentally significantly better than what is common practice; identifies whether a positive achievement leads to significant worsening of another impact; requires greenhouse gas offsets to be reported in a transparent manner; and includes accurate information.

It would also set up specific requirements for comparative claims. 

Different types of claims would be needed for different levels of substantiation. The proposed directive would not require a single method nor conducting a full life-cycle analysis for each type of a claim.

The proposed regulation would also introduce requirements on the communication of environmental claims. For instance, all claims would have to cover only the environmental impacts, aspects or performance that were assessed in accordance with the substantiation requirements. 

Microenterprises would be exempted from some requirements.

It would also include provisions on environmental labels and labelling schemes. In particular, it would introduce a validation procedure for new schemes established by private operators (that should be assessed by national authorities). 

There would be an ex-ante verification of environmental claims and labelling schemes by an officially accredited independent body. 

Some provisions would ensure that small and medium sized enterprises would receive help, including financial support, access to finance, specialised management and staff training as well as organisational and technical assistance. The proposal also includes a number of provisions on enforcement. 

In Parliament, the file was allocated jointly to the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) and to the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) (article 58 of the Rules of Procedure - 'joint committee procedure'). They appointed, respectively, Andrus Ansip (Renew, Estonia) and Cyrus Engerer (S&D, Malta) as rapporteurs. 

The draft report was released on 11 October. The co-rapporteurs propose a range of measures to strengthen the Commission proposal. Their key priorities are to ensure that the measures and mechanisms which the Commission proposal brings forward in relation to communication, substantiation and verification of explicit environmental claims are robust, future proof and that they provide adequate certainties for consumers and the necessary predictability for companies operating on the single market. At the same time, it is important that this proposal includes measures to support small and medium sized companies to comply with the new requirements when making voluntary green claims.

In total, 821 amendments were tabled in the joint committee. On 14 February, ENVI and IMCO adopted the report with 85 votes in favour, two against and 14 abstentions.

The report was adopted by the Parliament as its first reading position on 12 March 2024, with 467 votes in favour, 65 against and 74 abstentions. The plenary adopted an amendment allowing the Commission to supplement the provisions on the use of certified units for residual emissions of a trader, through a delegated act, to establish a method for defining residual emissions, based on an emission reduction pathway compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5°C, taking into account technological feasibility and in consultation with the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change.

In the Council, discussions have taken place in the Working Party on the Environment and in the Working Party on Consumer Protection and Information.


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Author: Guillaume Ragonnaud, Members' Research Service,

As of 20/05/2024.