Brussels declares war on misleading ‘green’ advertising

NSustainable, green, ecological, climate-neutral – more and more companies are advertising their products today as environmentally and climate-friendly. However, consumer advocates criticize the fact that they often do not take the “truth” that seriously or market goods as “green” without reliable evidence, in short “greenwashing”. When the European consumer protection authorities examined “green” advertising promises on a large scale in November 2020, they came to the conclusion that 42 percent were exaggerated, false or misleading and 58 percent were not sufficiently scientifically proven. The consumer trust in green advertising claims is correspondingly low, judges European Commission

According to the Commission, companies should only be allowed to market goods as environmentally or climate-friendly if they can prove that they are green. This emerges from an internal draft for an EU law that the Commission intends to officially present in March.

The draft is available to the FAZ. With the so-called EU directive, the Brussels authority wants to make clear specifications for the methodology with which manufacturers or dealers underpin advertising statements on environmental and climate protection. The statements must therefore be based on “generally recognized scientific knowledge and the latest state of research and take into account the relevant international standards,” says the draft. In doing so, companies should take into account the entire life cycle of the products from production to use and negative consequences.

Greens in the European Parliament welcome the move

If, for example, low water consumption with high CO2emissions or low CO2-Emissions in production go hand in hand with high emissions in the use phase, a product should not be allowed to be advertised as “green”. Unless the negative consequences are communicated in a clear and generally understandable form for the consumer together with the “green advertising promise”. If a product contains toxic, carcinogenic or other very dangerous substances, the manufacturer or dealer should only be allowed to advertise it as environmentally or climate-friendly in exceptional cases.

The methodology and evidence of the environmentally or climate friendly nature of the goods must be publicly available. This should allow independent third parties, such as consumer protection associations, to check the statements. These, but also ordinary citizens, should be able to lodge a complaint with the responsible authorities if a company does not comply with the provisions of the law.

Too many labels

The EU Commission is also declaring war on the growing number of “green labels”. The EU states should only approve new private-sector eco-labels if they offer “a significant additional benefit in terms of ecological ambition, the breadth of environmental impacts or product categories and to support the green reorientation of small and medium-sized companies”.

Other demands from critics of the green washing the EU Commission does not take it up. For example, it does not keep a public register of all approved “green” advertising claims. No list of clearly misleading statements – such as “climate neutral” – is planned. Nor does the Commission want the use of CO2-Ban carbon offsetting mechanisms.

With the Greens in European Parliament the initiative is nevertheless met with approval. “More and more consumers are attaching importance to sustainability at the shop counter,” says MP Anna Cavazzini. “I therefore welcome the fact that the Commission wants to clear the jungle of meaningless or half-true green labels and advertising promises.” The draft can still change before it is officially presented. Before the directive can come into force, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers of the EU countries have to deal with it.

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