- Consumers often cannot differentiate between advertisement for sustainable products and greenwashing.
- Green claims must be factually correct and easy to understand.
- Ex-ante verification of green claims can prevent greenwashing.
Sustainable consumption is difficult: in most cases it is completely unclear to consumers whether the dozens of green claims are factually correct or whether they simply constitute greenwashing. In March 2023, the European Commission presented a proposal for a directive intended to prevent greenwashing. While the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband – vzbv) welcomes the planned ex-ante-verification of green claims, it sees room for improvement in the directive.
“Producers are currently able to claim that their yoghurt is ‘sustainable’, their juice is ‘environmentally friendly’ or their jam is ‘bee-friendly’ while being subject to hardly any regulation. This is a problem for consumers: in the supermarket, they do not know whether a product has indeed been produced in a particularly environmentally friendly way or whether the manufacturing company is just using a greenwashing approach,” says Jochen Geilenkirchen, Policy Officer Sustainable Consumption at vzbv.
European Commission takes a step in the right direction
The European Commission now proposes that in the future, an independent instance will have to check the truthfulness of green claims before they are used on the market. “Consumers can then finally trust that the ‘bee-friendly’ jam does actually benefit the environment and can consciously choose the more sustainable product. This helps consumers, the environment and the companies that are really taking action,” says Jochen Geilenkirchen.
Close the loopholes in the directive
The proposal for a directive will now be discussed in the European Parliament and the European Council, where amendments are also possible. “There are still some loopholes that need to be closed if the directive is to effectively prevent greenwashing. The rules for green claims must apply to all companies – regardless of their size or the sector they operate in. There are still too many exemption. Furthermore, the use of particularly misleading claims, such as ‘climate neutral’, should be banned. Climate neutral production is currently not possible,” says Jochen Geilenkirchen.