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EU bans unbacked green claims, early obsolescence

Airlines, appliance and electronics manufacturers and FMCG firms will be most affected by the new law.
Melodie Michel
EU bans unbacked green claims, early obsolescence
Photo by Paolo Margari on Unsplash

The European Parliament has passed a new directive banning unsupported green claims – including those based on carbon offsetting – as well as early obsolescence in order to empower consumers to make more sustainable decisions.

The greenwashing ban aims to terminate a number of “problematic habits” among companies selling to EU consumers, particularly the use of generic green claims such as  “environmentally friendly”, “natural”, “biodegradable”, “climate neutral” or “eco” without proof. Set to come into force in 2026, it will be supported by the Green Claims Directive, a set of clear sustainability marketing guidelines for companies – which is still in negotiation.

“There are more than 1,200 green labels, but barely 35% of them have any form of verification,” noted Biljana Borzan, EU rapporteur on this topic in a press conference.

Read also: Between greenwashing and greenhushing - What is the right way to communicate sustainability plans?

Airlines, appliance and electronic device manufacturers, as well as food and cosmetic brands (known as the fast-moving consumer goods or FMCG sector) will be most affected by the new law.

Greenwashing ban: ‘No such thing as carbon neutral’

Carbon neutrality claims based on the purchase of offsets have been under increased scrutiny in recent years, with a number of consumer complaints and advertising bans from UK and EU watchdogs. Now, the new directive aims to ban claims based on offsetting schemes, “since there is no scientific evidence to back them up”, added Borzan.

This means airlines will no longer be allowed to sell “climate-neutral” flights by encouraging consumers to purchase carbon offsets.

Speaking to CSO Futures in October, Lydia Sheldrake, Director of Policy and Partnerships at the Voluntary Carbon Market Integrity Initiative (VCMI) explained that it is no longer acceptable to make green claims based purely on offsetting, without doing the work to reduce emissions first. 

“The concern that has been underpinning many of the greenwashing accusations is that the use of credits gives a free pass for companies to continue business as usual and continue to pollute. That's not credible,” she said. 

VCMI is working with the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM) to make carbon offsetting more transparent and impactful: ICVCM has introduced minimum quality requirements for offsets (known as the Core Carbon Principles) while VCMI recently launched its Claims Code of Practice, which ranks green claims based on the amount of carbon reduction achieved before offsetting.

EU directive: Early obsolescence and right to repair

Aside from regulating sustainability labels, the newly passed EU directive will also outlaw early obsolescence and incentivise companies to make repairs easier and more accessible.

“With the new law, the industry will no longer profit from making consumer goods that break just as the guarantee is over,” said Borzan. 

Companies could face pan-European fines for knowingly making products less durable or forcing customers to change devices earlier than necessary – by slowing them down with software updates, for example. 

Here, the law is attempting to reduce the amount of electronic waste generated in the EU every year, targeting electronics and appliances manufacturers. It means flashy sustainability communications like Apple’s ‘Mother Nature’ ad will need to be backed by product durability.

Companies will also have to provide clear information about repair procedure and cost, and a new harmonised label will allow consumers to compare the guarantee length of different products – the best indication of their durability. 

Borzan explained that longer-lasting guarantees will soon become a competitive advantage, shifting manufacturers’ business models and incentivising them to produce more spare parts, making repairs easier and cheaper. As an example, read about Whirlpool’s work to better manage the full lifecycle of its products.

The directive was adopted yesterday (January 17) with 593 votes in favour, 21 against and 14 abstentions, and will amend the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and the Consumer Rights Directive.