New EU Directive on Misleading Green Claims

The European Council has adopted a new directive nicknamed the “Greenwashing directive” to protect consumers from misleading sustainability claims and other unfair commercial practices. The directive will work in tandem with the proposed “Green Claims Directive” on substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims. At CarbonCloud, we believe any initiative to ensure environmental claims are not misleading and based on accurate, scientifically backed data is a good thing for the food industry and their customers.

The Greenwashing Directive and Green Claims directive both target “environmental claims” made by businesses. An environmental claim is defined here as a claim that states or implies that a product, service, or organization has

  • a positive impact on the environment;
  • no impact on the environment;
  • less damaging to the environment than other products, rands or traders, respectively; or
  • improved impact over time.

Any such claim is prohibited unless it is substantiated with scientific evidence and verified ex-ante (meaning the substantiation must have been presented before the environmental claim was made, and not just upon request.) A substantiation of an environmental claim must, inter alia, take into account internationally recognized scientific approaches to measuring environmental impacts, consider the life cycle of the product or the overall activities of the trader, and exhibit transparency towards the consumer.

Furthermore, an advertisement shall not be misleading, which is the case if it deceives or is likely to deceive the average consumer regarding the main characteristics of the product, regardless if the information is correct or not. There are also restrictions on generic claims such as “green”, “environmentally friendly”, “sustainable”, “conscious”, or “responsible”.

Environmental labels (so-called ‘eco-labels’, or Type I environmental labels defined by ISO 14024) are a subset of environmental claims. An eco-label is an environmental claim that indicates overall environmental preferability of a product within a product category, based on an aggregated indicator of cumulative environmental impact. Such labels are in the form of a trust mark, quality mark or equivalent setting apart and promoting a product/process or business with reference to its environmental aspects. Eco-labels of this kind are prohibited unless these are established at the EU level.

How does the CarbonCloud label relate to this? Putting the CarbonCloud label on a package is a way of communicating to customers the carbon footprint of the product. Each footprint shown on a package is accompanied by a publicly available technical report. The footprint is shown as a two digit number of the amount of CO2 equivalents emitted per kilogram of the product from cradle to store shelf. It is a so-called Type III environmental declaration. It is not a quality mark indicating overall environmental preferability of a product within its product category, since any product is entitled to such a label, provided a footprint study has been carried out. Neither does the CarbonCloud label provide a color code indicating how well the product performs in relation to other products within its category. Therefore it is not an ‘eco-label’ or an environmental claim according to the EU definition.

CarbonCloud is a strong supporter of the new EU directives. Our mission is to supply carbon footprint assessments with scientific integrity and transparency as our guiding stars. A carbon footprint does not by itself constitute an environmental claim (as defined by the Greenwashing directive and Green Claims directive) but can be used as part of the substantiation of a green claim. We are confident that we, together with our customers, can contribute to the end goal of enabling consumers to make informed purchasing decisions based on reliable information about the sustainability of products and traders.