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Ending greenwashing and enabling sustainable choices for consumers

The European Commission has proposed new rules to address greenwashing and misleading environmental claims in the European Union's market. The proposal aims to ensure that consumers have more clarity and assurance regarding environmentally friendly products and services and that companies that genuinely prioritize environmental sustainability are recognized and rewarded.

The proposal is based on a 2020 Commission study that revealed that over half (53.3%) of examined environmental claims in the EU were vague, misleading, or unfounded, while 40% were unsubstantiated. The absence of standard rules for companies making voluntary green claims leads to greenwashing, which creates an inconsistent playing field in the EU market, to the disadvantage of genuinely sustainable companies.

Under the proposal, when companies make a green claim about their products or services, they must respect minimum norms for substantiating and communicating these claims. The proposal targets explicit claims, such as "T-shirt made of recycled plastic bottles," "CO2 compensated delivery," "packaging made of 30% recycled plastic," or "ocean-friendly sunscreen." It includes all voluntary claims about the environmental impacts, aspects, or performance of a product, service, or trader. Still, it excludes claims covered by existing EU rules, such as the EU Ecolabel or the organic food logo. The current laws already ensure that these regulated claims are reliable.

Before companies communicate any covered types of green claims to consumers, such claims must be independently confirmed and proven with scientific evidence. As part of scientific research, companies will identify the environmental impacts relevant to their product and any possible trade-offs to give a complete and accurate picture.

The proposal also regulates environmental labels. At least 230 different labels lead to consumer confusion and distrust. New public labeling schemes will only be allowed if developed at the EU level. Any other private methods must show higher environmental ambition than existing ones and receive pre-approval. The rules for environmental labels state that they have to be reliable, transparent, independently verified, and regularly reviewed.

The proposal complements the March 2022 proposal on "empowering consumers for the green transition" by outlining more precise guidelines for environmental claims and a general prohibition of misleading advertising. According to the ordinary legislative procedure, the Green Claims Directive, a part of the broader Commission's European Green Deal, will be subject to the approval of the European Parliament and the Council before it is officially implemented.  

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