Proposed EU Green Claims Directive – help shape the legislation
On March 22, 2023, the European Commission published a Proposal for a Directive on the substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims (Green Claims Directive). With new criteria to stop companies from making misleading claims about the merits of their products and services, the proposal requires companies to substantiate claims they make about environmental aspects or performance of their products using robust, science-based and verifiable methods. Food and drink companies should assess the potential impact on their products now so they can help shape the legislation.
Environmental or ‘green’ claims play an increasingly important role in food and beverage marketing strategies, and claims that products are good for the planet or describing them as eco-friendly are commonplace. Up to now, a lack of regulation in the EU, has meant that a lot of claims aren’t substantiated, which can open the door to greenwashing, where a company gives a false impression of its environmental credentials.
Proposed Green Claims Directive
The EU’s proposed Green Claims Directive is a step in the right direction. The proposal aims to harmonise rules on green claims, through a minimum regulatory standard, providing consumers with reliable, comparable and verifiable environmental information on products. The proposal includes: clear criteria on how companies should prove their environmental claims and labels; requirements for these claims and labels to be checked by an independent and accredited verifier; and new rules on governance of environmental labelling schemes to ensure they are solid, transparent and reliable.
The proposal targets explicit claims that: are made on a voluntary basis by businesses towards consumers; cover the environmental impacts, aspects or performance of a product or the trader itself; and are not currently covered by other EU rules.
The proposal complements a separate, parallel proposal which seeks to amend Annex I of Directive 2005/29/EC, in relation to commercial practices which are unfair in all circumstances, with four practices focused on greenwashing. Additional regulated schemes are already in place including the Ecolabel and the Organic farming label, for brands that are eligible to use them. However, these will likely be out of scope of the proposed directive.
It is also proposed that public labelling schemes (created by government) at national and regional level will likely be prohibited; and private labelling schemes (created by industry) will only be approved by member states if they provide added value.
Relevant international standards (such as ISO 14024:2018 - Environmental labels and declarations — Type I environmental labelling — Principles and procedures) are reflected in the proposal as one way to support green claim substantiation.
Potential for divergence?
The choice of regulatory instrument (an EU directive instead of an EU regulation) may lead to significant divergences in the approaches taken to claim verification in the different EU member states, with some being stricter than others. Companies may find they have slightly different procedures to follow if they are marketing products in different member states, which will add complexity.
The proposed directive will go through the normal legislative procedure, involving scrutiny by the European Parliament and Council of Europe. In our view, the new directive will be published and in force by late 2024 earliest (after the European Parliament Elections), although this may change. Once in force member states have 18 months to bring in national rules, which apply 6 months after that. Therefore, the main application date is 24 months after publication; late 2026 being our current estimate (again this may change).
How food and beverage companies can prepare for the Green Claims Directive
Even though the main application date is a few years away, it’s worth taking the time now to understand the potential impact of the proposed Directive on product portfolios. This will enable companies to prepare feedback through official channels or industry associations to help shape the legislation as the draft directive moves to publication.
How Leatherhead can help
Leatherhead Food Research supports companies in identifying, validating and creating green claims that are tailored to specific products. Our scientific and regulatory affairs team also provides support in substantiating claims across global markets.
For help assessing green claims on food and beverage products against the provisions in the draft directive, do get in touch at [email protected]. We can also provide regulatory analysis to support any feedback given to official channels or industry associations.