EU to challenge "green" product claims

New think-tank ponders how to do away with bogus "environmental friendly" marketing

The European Commission has brought together experts from governments, industry and NGOs to examine how to stop unscrupulous manufacturers making unjustified claims that their products are good for the environment. A new expert working group met for the fist time this week to look at how to make sure product advertisements and labels give consumers a clear idea about the green credentials of their purchases.

At a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, the Commission's consumer affairs directorate (DGXXIV) presented a report which said EU action was needed to tackle a massive number of dubious green product claims and widely varying national systems for regulating them.

The report highlights practices such as: claiming a product is free of a certain component, when it would never have contained that substance anyway; boasting about not containing substances - such as CFCs - which are, in fact, banned by legislation; making exaggerated claims about the potential for recycling a product or its packaging.

The European Consumers' Association, BEUC, which attended the meeting, said binding legislation was needed. BEUC's Barbara Moretti said manufacturers should be made to prove their claims are true, rather than leaving it to regulators or NGOs to prove them untrue. She also called for a harmonisation at EU level of phrases which can be used on packaging to avoid too many shades of meaning such as "low chlorine", "reduced chlorine" and "chlorine free".

Ms Moretti said a harmonisation of EU rules would be to the advantage of official ecolabels, which are currently obscured by the amount of misleading product information. She said: "A lot of consumers don't have the capacity to distinguish between meaningful and meaningless claims, and so they don't even believe the good ones."

An EU directive on misleading advertising (84/450) is due to be revised this year and the Commission might decide to propose bringing green claims explicitly under its jurisdiction, a DGXXIV official said. She added that whatever measures the Commission takes, it will make use of work already done by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) which is finalising a new standard for environmental product claims. Among other things, this draft standard sets out claims which are meaningless and should be avoided, such as "environmentally friendly".

The group will meet again in June to look at specific measures that might be taken. These could include binding legislation, but might be based on voluntary measures by industry.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111; BEUC tel: +32 2 743 1590.

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