The details have been clarified, implementation is starting: With its proposal for the new EU Green Claims Regulation against misleading eco-advertising, fake seals and false sustainability promises, the European Commission is triggering dramatic changes throughout the EU market. In the future, anyone who wants to advertise the ecological benefits of their product will have to prove it. Self-made seals (“formulation without microplastics”) or incomprehensible slogans (“climate-friendly”, “environmentally friendly”) are now a thing of the past. This directive is a milestone. My prediction: The number of products labeled as supposedly environmentally friendly that we encounter every day when shopping will be noticeably reduced.
A proliferation of eco-promises: around three quarters of all products labeled
With the growing awareness of the ecological impact of one’s own consumption, the number of environment-related claims on products has also exploded in recent years. This is particularly visible in drugstores, where hardly any cosmetic, hygiene or cleaning product is without a reference to alleged ecological benefits. Across all sectors, 75 percent of all goods on the EU market carry an environmentally friendly claim, reports the trade magazine “Sustainable Plastics”. A study commissioned by the EU Commission counted around 230 different eco-labels. The eco-promises made were also examined: More than half turned out to be “vague, misleading or unfounded.” 40 percent were even “completely unfounded.” I would put it more clearly: There are outright eco-lies hiding there.
Use of fake and self-made seals will be prohibited in the future
The new rules are docked to Directive 2005/29/EC, which lists unfair commercial practices. These practices will now be expanded by four points.
1 Ban on fake and self-made seals.
Arbitrary eco-labels that are not based on a certification system or have not been introduced by public authorities may no longer be used in the future. To find out which seals and eco-labels will be permitted in the future, read the most important questions and answers about the new directive here.
By the way: flustix has already been testing on the basis of an independent certification scheme since 2018 and is registered and recognized throughout Europe as a Union certification mark. Read more.
2 “Green” and “environmentally friendly” are not valid statements
The second practice that will be considered unfair in the future is the use of general environmental claims without providing any benefit to the environment or climate in return. Examples of general environmental claims include “environmentally friendly,” “green,” “friend of nature,” “ecological,” or “environmentally sound.” Only if the environmental benefit can be proven over the entire life cycle and the complete value chain may these claims be used in advertising.
Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke said: “Advertising with ‘climate neutral’, ‘climate positive’, ‘green’ or similar terms is often misleading and deceives consumers. It is good that the European Commission has now launched a regulation for the European Single Market: With the so-called ‘Green Claims Initiative’, there will be binding methodological requirements for the use of claims with environmental references in the future. The initiative presented today is a further building block for creating clarity among the many labels. We will bring the interests of consumers into the process. It is important that claims are reliable and that scientific methods form the basis.”
For the verification of recyclates and for the recyclability of products, flustix offers reliable valid seals based on scientific principles throughout Europe. The testing is carried out by independent partners (e.g. DIN CERTCO). Here you can find more information about the flustix seals.
3 Just because the packaging is recycled doesn’t mean the product is ecologically sound
The third unfair practice: making an environmental claim about the entire product, even though it only applies to a specific aspect of the product.
Example: toilet paper. The package says “Recycled” in large letters, but this refers to the plastic packaging, which contains a proportion of recyclates. The toilet paper itself is made of fresh fibers and chlorinated white. There is nothing eco about it. Another common example: the packaging is advertised as recycled, but only the lid is made of recyclates.
4 Selling standards as special features
Prohibition number four: Legally required minimum standards may not be advertised as outstanding environmental performance on the product in order to create the impression of committed environmental protection.
Even the packaging design must not mislead
The details of the regulation are quite tricky: even the use of suggestive images that have nothing to do with reality will no longer be permitted in the future. The directive states that “the imagery and overall presentation of the product, including the layout, choice of colors, images, pictures, sounds, symbols or labels included in the environmental claim, should truthfully and accurately represent the extent of the environmental benefit achieved and should not exaggerate the environmental benefit achieved.”
Example: on the milk package, you see a cow in a green field, but the milk comes from confinement or tethered housing.
This is an aspect that sustainable brands will have to take into account when designing their packaging in the future.
FAQ on the EU Green Claims Regulation
To prevent greenwashing, which is often hidden on packaging and in advertising today, the European Commission is proposing common criteria against misleading environmental claims. Consumers should be able to be sure that products that are advertised as environmentally friendly are actually environmentally friendly.
National testing bodies will test and evaluate all existing certification systems according to a uniform methodology. If a certificate of conformity is issued, it will be recognized throughout the EU. The European Commission expects about 100 remaining eco-labels across the EU.
In the private sector: Yes, but only if they a) meet all the requirements of the directive from the outset and b) additionally demonstrate a particular benefit. National and regional labels may not be newly introduced. Only the EU may create additional eco-labels as required.
An eco-label must be based on a certification system. The evaluation must be based on scientific knowledge and state-of-the-art technology. In addition, certification must be carried out by independent third parties.
Information about the ownership and decision-making bodies of the ecolabel scheme must be transparent, accessible free of charge, easy to understand and sufficiently detailed. Information on the objectives of the eco-label scheme and the requirements and procedures for monitoring compliance with the eco-label scheme shall also be transparent, accessible free of charge, easy to understand and sufficiently detailed. Requirements for the eco-labeling system would have to have been developed by experts and submitted for consultation to a heterogeneous group of stakeholders.
Violations can result in severe penalties
This can be really expensive: Anyone who violates the directive will have to dig deep into their pockets. The amount of the fines depends on the severity of the violation. For example, repeat offenders will be punished more severely. The directive states, “The maximum amount should be dissuasive and at least four percent of the trader’s total annual turnover.” In addition, the revenue generated from the business with the products in question can be confiscated. In addition, there is the threat of exclusion from public procurement procedures and access to public funds, including tenders, grants and concessions.
Member states must transpose directive into national law
Once the directive enters into force, member states now have two years to transpose and apply it into applicable law. That sounds like a lot, but it’s not. After all, greenwashing lawsuits are already commonplace. The new directive will bring these unfair practices even more into the public eye. We therefore advise companies to switch to the new standards now. The ministries responsible in Germany, the BMUV and the BMEL, are willing to get up to speed now and act immediately after publication by transposing the directive into national law as quickly as possible. There will be little time left.
Environmental aid sues well-known companies and brands
Last year, Deutsche Umwelthilfe caused a stir when it sued several companies for alleged eco-lies. These included a drugstore chain whose “Pro Climate” brand of dishwashing detergent was labeled as an “environmentally neutral product. Among the defendants was also a travel provider that offered “climate-friendly airline tickets.” The store has since closed.
About the author
Malte Biss (49) is founder and managing director of the flustix initiative. Founded in 2017, the Berlin-based organization offers six different flustix seals: The flustix plastic-free seals, in cooperation with recognized testing laboratories and DIN CERTCO, identify the cumulative product as well as the respective packaging or product and product content without microplastics. The flustix RECYCLED seal certifies recyclates, semi-finished products and products with recycled content of plastics, metal & glass, among others. flustix RECYCLABLE – DIN plus independently communicates the recyclability of packaging. The flustix seals serve as an orientation aid for consumers and support companies in a corporate strategy geared towards sustainability.