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Protecting consumers against greenwashing

On 11 May 2023 the European Parliament adopted the text of the proposal of the directive on empowering consumers for the green transition through better protection against unfair practices and better information.

The proposal aims at enhancing consumer rights by amending two directives that protect the interest of consumers at the Union level: the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive 2005/29/EC (UCPD) and the Consumer Rights Directive 2011/83/EU. More specifically, the proposal aims to contribute to a circular, clean and green EU economy by enabling consumers to make sustainability informed purchasing decisions and therefore contribute to more sustainable consumption. It also targets unfair commercial practices that mislead consumers away from sustainable consumption choices. Furthermore, it ensures a better and more consistent application of EU consumer rules.

The general rules in the UCPD on misleading practices can be applied to greenwashing practices when they negatively affect consumers, using a case-by-case assessment. However, there are no specific rules in the UCPD or in its Annex I (the blacklist) defining such practices as unfair in all circumstances. A recent screening of websites by Consumer Protection Cooperation Network authorities to detect misleading environmental claims confirmed that there is a need to strengthen the rules to facilitate enforcement in this area. Furthermore, a recent Commission study assessed 150 environmental claims and found that a considerable share (53.3%) of them provide vague, misleading or unfounded information on products’ environmental characteristics across the EU and in a wide range of product groups (both in the advertisement as well as on the product).

The proposal states that it is key to ensure that traders do not mislead consumers about the environmental and social impacts, durability and reparability of products, and to ensure that a trader can make an environmental claim related to future environmental performance only when this involves clear commitments. A ban shall be imposed on displaying a sustainability label which is not based on a certification scheme or not established by public authorities and on making an environmental claim about the entire product when it actually concerns only a certain aspect of the product.

Member States will have 18 months from adoption to implement and publish the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the directive and have 24 months from adoption to apply these provisions.