Green claims may be subject to EU guidelines

Commission sets out thinking on how to stop spurious "environmentally friendly" claims

The European Commission is considering drafting guidelines for companies to ensure that claims they make about the "environmentally friendly" nature of their products are true and do not mislead consumers. According to a Commission consultation paper just published on the internet, such a code of conduct could eventually become mandatory by inclusion in the EU directive on misleading advertising.

The paper contains the latest ideas on how to tackle at EU level the practice of using spurious "green" claims to sell products that are actually no more beneficial to the environment than others. The process began with a meeting of national experts and stakeholders in April (ENDS Daily 23 April), another meeting followed in June, and the Commission's consumer protection directorate (DGXXIV) is now waiting for comments from interested parties before organising another discussion before the end of the year.

DGXXIV believes that action at EU level is justified because the existing directive on misleading advertising claims (84/450 is not explicit enough about environmental claims. The directive should state more clearly that it is illegal to make false green claims and should introduce "effective, proportional and dissuasive sanctions" against such claims.

Deciding whether a green claim is justifiable or not can be confusing, says the paper, particularly as some information might be true but irrelevant, such as saying that something is recyclable even though it is unlikely to get recycled. Also the question of "subliminal advertising," such as giving a product a "green" appearance is not a clear cut issue. To tackle these grey areas, the paper suggests drawing up guidelines or a European standard on green claims along the lines of the international standard ISO 14021.

The guidelines would help companies make fair claims about their products and also give local authorities or NGOs a yardstick against which to measure the truthfulness of claims. They could be used on a voluntary basis, until they could be incorporated into a revised version of directive 84/450, the paper suggests. Systematic monitoring of green claims might also be an essential part of ensuring consumers are not duped, says the paper.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. References: "Outline of a Possible Community Approach in the Area of Green Claims - consultation document," is posted on the DGXXIV web site.

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