Mar 23, 2023
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Praise and criticism for European Commission's greenwashing directive

Mar 23, 2023

The European Commission’s latest proposals on tackling greenwashing have been welcomed, but there’s also a view that not pursuing the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) or any other standard methodology leaves gaps in the ability to tackle the issue.

On Wednesday, the Commission’s highly anticipated Substantiating Green Claims Directive, aimed at preventing greenwashing, was released.

It’s introducing penalties against greenwashing and tighter rules for approving new eco-labels to avoid the confusing proliferation of such labels. 

It includes fines or even confiscation of revenues and other penalties for offenders with national authorities to police this process.

This comes after an earlier study it commissioned showed that 40% of green claims are “completely unsubstantiated” with more than half of the environmental claims being “vague, misleading or unfounded”. From now on, those claims will have to be validated by business selling products in Europe.

But a key point of criticism is around the PEF methodology that the Commission previously supported to substantiate green claims and the fact that with the new Directive, it isn’t the main way for companies to justify eco claims.

Some campaign groups have said the best approach would have been to make PEF more comprehensive and fit for purpose so companies have a single methodology they have to stick to.

As a result, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)’s executive VP Andrew Martin said the Directive falls short.

“At a time when ‘only swift and drastic action can avert irrevocable damage to the world’, as set out by the IPCC this week, this is a missed opportunity from the European Commission to be a global frontrunner on sustainability and fulfil ambitions set out in its Green Deal,” he said.

He added that the Directive doesn't mandate a “standardised and clearly defined framework based on scientific foundations and fails to provide the legal certainty for companies and clarity to consumers. This lack of focus has the potential to open the door to a range of varied and incomparable methodologies, risking undermining, rather than advancing, progress in the sector.

After a decade in development, the EU-commissioned and funded PEF is the most holistic, scientifically-grounded method to date for assessing the environmental impact of a product. We therefore urge EU policy makers to reconsider its inclusion within the Directive. As science evolves, so too will the PEF – constantly evolving, growing and strengthening to provide a more comprehensive picture of sustainability.”

That comes as the Make The Label Count (MTLC) coalition earlier this week said that “though the PEF methodology is far from perfect, we believe it can be improved and is the most robust methodology currently available to us”.

The MTLC thinks adding other methodologies into the mix, “could lead to more harm than good, creating fragmentation and consumer confusion”.

In response to publication of the Directive, it said that it welcomes the Commission’s proposal to substantiate environmental claims and is pleased to see it “has recognised the shortcomings of the Product Environmental Footprint method and is committed to improving it further”.

But the MTLC will also “be taking the time to review the recommended criteria to assess whether it is fit for purpose. We remain fully committed to working with lawmakers to ensure that the final law is consistent with the objectives set by the EU environmental policy and the transition to a circular economy”.

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