2.5.1. Introduction / Definition

The expressions "environmental claims" or "green claims" refer to the practice of suggesting or otherwise creating the impression (in the context of a commercial communication, marketing or advertising) that a product or a service, is environmentally friendly (i.e. it has a positive impact on the environment) or is less damaging to the environment than competing goods or services. This may be due to, for example, its composition, the way it has been manufactured or produced, the way it can be disposed off and the reduction in energy or pollution which can be expected from its use. When such claims are not true or cannot be verified this practice can be described as "green washing".

Consumers may weigh environmental considerations when purchasing products. Increasingly, in planning their advertising and marketing campaigns traders are taking these factors into account and environmental claims have become a powerful marketing tool. However, in order for environmental claims to be informative for consumers and to be effective in promoting goods and services with lower environmental impacts, it is imperative that they are clear, truthful, accurate and not misleading. They must also not emphasise one environmental issue and hide any trade-offs or negative impacts on the environment. The use of truthful environmental claims is also important in order to protect traders who make genuine claims from unfair competition from those traders who make unfounded environmental claims[50].

There is no EU legislation specifically harmonising environmental marketing. Environmental claims are partly covered by specific community legislation regulating the environmental performance of a category of products and prohibiting the misleading use of the claim, logo or label used in reference to this specific legislation. These laws provide for specific rules which take precedence over the broader provisions of the Directive as explained in section 1.9 above. Examples of such legislation are given in Section 2.5.2 below.

Outside those aspects covered by specific EU legislation, the general provisions of the Directive are to be used when assessing environmental claims and establishing whether a claim is misleading either in its content or in the way it is presented to consumers.

This was highlighted when, on 4 December 2008, the Environment Council adopted conclusions on the Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy Action Plan. Under point 18 of the conclusions, the Council "INVITES the Member States to fully implement the Directive on unfair commercial practices with regard to environmental claims; INVITES the Commission to include environmental claims in any future guidelines on the Directive on unfair commercial practices".

Footnotes

[50] See for example the recent survey on Green expectations - Consumers' understanding of green claims in advertising, by Consumer Focus, where it appears that 58% of consumers they consulted think that a lot of companies pretend to be green just to charge higher prices. To be consulted under: http://consumerfocus.org.uk/en/content/cms/Publications___Repor/Publications___Repor.aspx

Links to articles of the Directive

Keywords