According to the EU Commission, anyone who buys a product that is advertised as environmentally friendly should be able to be sure in the future that it really is. The Brussels authority wants to offer consumers reliable information on sustainability with new rules on green advertising promises. According to a legislative proposal presented on Wednesday, companies should have to comply with minimum standards when it comes to information about the climate friendliness or sustainability of their goods.

With this, the Commission is taking action against so-called greenwashing – in which companies market products or services as environmentally or climate-friendly, even though they may not be. Before the new rules can come into force, the European Parliament and the EU countries still have to negotiate on them.

Information should be independently verified

“Green claims are everywhere,” said Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans. “Ocean-friendly t-shirts, carbon-neutral bananas, bee-friendly juices, 100 percent carbon-offset deliveries and so on. Unfortunately, all too often these claims are made without any evidence or justification.”

If the proposal is implemented, consumers would have the certainty “that something that is sold as green is really green,” Timmermans said. This is not about mandatory information, but about voluntary statements by companies. According to a 2020 study by the EU agency, more than half of the claims made about the climate friendliness of goods were vague, misleading or unfounded.

Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said the demand for environmentally friendly products is increasing significantly in the EU. Europeans are therefore willing to buy greener – to ensure that a product they buy has less or no harmful impact on the environment. According to the proposal, such information should be independently checked and scientifically proven in the future. As part of the scientific analysis, companies should continue to determine the environmental impacts that are actually relevant to the product.

The Commission would also like to tackle the environmental labels themselves. There are currently at least 230 different labels – which leads to confusion and distrust among consumers, it said. New public labeling systems should therefore no longer be permitted – unless they are created at EU level. All new private labels would have to show higher environmental goals than before. In general, they had to be reliable and transparent and regularly checked independently, the authority demanded.

Peter Liese, environmental spokesman for the Christian Democrat EPP Group in the European Parliament, said it was very important “that if you claim that a product or service is environmentally friendly, you can prove it”. Consumers should be able to easily identify genuinely environmentally and climate-friendly products and be sure that these claims are true. The harmonization of the green labels will also benefit those companies that are on the right track.

Environmental protection organization WWF still sees shortcomings

From the Commission’s point of view, those companies that really make an effort to ensure the ecological sustainability of their products can benefit: instead of being exposed to unfair competition, the new rules would make them easier for consumers to recognize.

For the environmental organization WWF, however, the Commission’s proposal still falls short. “Essential aspects such as biodiversity and soil health are left out in the methods currently proposed,” criticized Maja-Catrin Riecher, consultant for sustainable agricultural raw materials. In addition, there is still too much scope for consumer deception through climate neutrality labels. In the future, instead of regulating purely environmentally-related advertising, a more comprehensive sustainability label is needed that also includes social and health aspects, for example.