EU approves law to ban greenwashing on product labels

“This law cuts through the smoke of misleading green marketing, putting a leash on shady claims and boosting the credibility of sustainability labels.”

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SOURCEEcoWatch

The European Parliament has voted to adopt a law regulating sustainability claims on product labels. The law will prohibit retailers from making general environmental claims and sustainability claims without evidence.

The law bans the use of terms including “eco,” “biodegradable,” “environmentally friendly,” “natural” and “climate neutral” without evidence. The EU will now require sustainability labels to be linked to official certifications or those established by public authorities, such as the the EU Ecolabel, the European Environmental Bureau reported

Further, the law addresses carbon offsetting, banning labels from noting that products have a “neutral, reduced or positive impact on the environment” because of companies’ participation in carbon offsetting programs. The move comes at a time when more and more studies are revealing that carbon offset programs do little to actually mitigate emissions, instead operating more as “phantom credits” that don’t remove any carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

The EU directive against greenwashing received strong support with 593 votes to approve the law and 21 against, as well as 14 abstentions.

“We will step away from throwaway culture, make marketing more transparent and fight premature obsolescence of goods,” European Parliament’s rapporteur Biljana Borzan said in a press release. “People will be able to choose products that are more durable, repairable and sustainable thanks to reliable labels and advertisements. Most importantly, companies can no longer trick people by saying that plastic bottles are good because the company planted trees somewhere — or say that something is sustainable without explaining how. This is a big win for all of us!”

In addition to banning greenwashing claims, the directive will target false or unfounded durability claims, to promote reusability and repairability. Brands will not be able to claim that products last longer than they would with normal use or promote replacing a product sooner than necessary, with such claims currently common on labels for technology products, such as printer ink.

Once approved by the European Council, the legislation will be recorded in the EU’s Official Journal. Afterward, member states of the EU will have two years to enact the law. In the meantime, the law will be a complement to the Green Claims Directive, still under review. The Green Claims Directive will provide more information on the use of environmental claims, the EU reported.

According to the European Environmental Bureau, about 75% of products on the market in the EU have some sort of sustainability claim, but more than half of these claims are vague, confusing or without evidence to back them up. 

Activists have applauded the move to ban greenwashing but also hope to see legislation that bans planned obsolescence, which is when a product is designed to break or become useless quickly.

“This law cuts through the smoke of misleading green marketing, putting a leash on shady claims and boosting the credibility of sustainability labels,” Miriam Thiemann, European Environmental Bureau’s policy officer for sustainable consumption, said in a statement. “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.“

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Based in Los Angeles, Paige Bennett is a writer who is passionate about sustainability. Aside from writing for EcoWatch, Paige also writes for Insider, HomeAdvisor, Thrillist, EuroCheapo, Eat This, Not That! and more. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Journalism from Ohio University and holds a certificate in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She also specialized in sustainable agriculture while pursuing her undergraduate degree. When she's not writing, Paige enjoys decorating her apartment, enjoying a cup of coffee and experimenting in the kitchen (with local, seasonal ingredients, of course!).

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