On Wednesday, the European Commission proposed updated consumer protections, a greenwashing “black list” and more as part of a package to make sustainable products the norm.
Since the Commission adopted its proposal on a directive for “Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition,” it’s now looking to sharpen existing consumer law directives so consumers can make informed and environment-friendly choices when buying their products. The Commission’s proposal for Ecodesign rules (which will mandate digital product passports and extended producer responsibility, or EPR, schemes), was also unveiled as it looks to clamp down on fast fashion.
The latest proposal builds on existing strides under the Circular Economy Action Plan, like the Sustainable Products Initiative (also adopted Wednesday) and upcoming initiatives on Substantiating Green Claims (which envelops the Product Environmental Footprint) and on the Right to Repair.
The efforts underpin the European Commission’s broader goal of becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and its goal to ensure textile products placed on the EU market are “long-lived and recyclable,” “free of hazardous substances” and produced in “respect of social rights and the environment,” by 2030.
“If we do not start consuming more sustainably, we will not achieve our European Green Deal goals — it is as simple as that,” commissioner for justice Didier Reynders, said in a press statement. “While most consumers are willing to contribute, we have also seen an increase in ‘greenwashing’ and early obsolescence practices. To become the real actors of the green transition, consumers must have a right to information to make sustainable choices. They must also be protected against unfair commercial practices which abuse their interest in buying green.”
Specifically, the Commission wants to amend the Consumer Rights Directive which relates to disclosures on product durability and reparability. This means consumers have the right to know how long a product is designed to last and if it can be repaired. If a two-year warranty or durability clause is offered it must be clear prior to purchase, as should any software updates and applicable “reparability scores.”
And producers or sellers will have to make the indications in a “clear and comprehensible manner”— be it on packaging or in website product descriptions.
The Commission is also proposing several amendments to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, to keep greenwashing at bay.
This means product characteristics are expanded to include environmental or social impact, as well as durability and reparability. Further, making an environmental claim related to future environmental performance without “clear, objective and verifiable commitments and targets, and without an independent monitoring system” won’t fly under the proposal.
There’s also a new “black list” of behaviors which includes: Not informing about features introduced to limit durability, for example, a software feature; making generic, vague or unverified environmental claims like ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘eco’ or ‘green;’ making generalized environmental claims for an entire product when, in fact, only an aspect of a product is concerned; displaying a voluntary sustainability label which was not third-party verified or established by public authorities; and not informing of a good’s limited functionality upon refurbishment.
As part of the EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles, the Ecodesign requirements for textiles include: a Digital Product Passport and a mandatory EU extended producer responsibility scheme. It also foresees measures to tackle the “unintentional release of microplastics from textiles,” green claim accuracy, and to boost circular business models (like reuse and repair).
“To address fast fashion, the Strategy also calls on companies to reduce the number of collections per year, take responsibility and act to minimize their carbon and environmental footprints, and on Member States to adopt favorable taxation measures for the reuse and repair sector,” the Commission’s statement read.
The proposals will now be discussed by the Council and the European Parliament. Once adopted and transposed into the Member States’ national legislation, consumers will be entitled to certain remedies.
Under a lack of regulation, sustainability labeling has become a lucrative opportunity.
Today, the Commission reports 230 voluntary eco-labels, 901 labeling schemes in the food area and 100 private green energy labels. Currently, only 35 percent of sustainability labels require specific data to prove compliance with the labeling requirements.
For upcoming initiatives, public consultation is open until April 5 and a number of stakeholders have already provided public comment in the open comment forum.
NGOs The Biomimicry Institute, consultancy Eco-Age and Fibershed expressed “caution” in online feedback forums related to the PEF. Trade cosmetics association Cosmetics Europe — which represents the interests of European members like The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., Coty Inc., Chanel Beauty, Johnson & Johnson, among others — also commented on green claims, pointing to a “European sectoral/value chain harmonized framework” that is specific to products using shampoo as an example.
“In our view, it is unlikely that one method alone (such as the Product Environmental Footprint could be used for all the sectors concerned,” read a comment on behalf of Cosmetics Europe. “Furthermore, as it stands today, there are general issues with the PEF method concerning data quality and availability, standardization, comparability etc., and therefore further development is necessary. A PEF case study that has been conducted on shampoo by Cosmetics Europe revealed that the PEF would not be specific enough to allow differentiation between products in a similar product category and has not provided indications on how its results could be clearly and meaningfully communicated to consumers.”
Organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund Europe supported the option to establish a binding legal EU-wide framework for environmental claims, while others looked to voluntary means.
The Policy Hub — launched by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition in collaboration with the Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry and Global Fashion Agenda — also offered comment.
“The Policy Hub welcomes the opportunity to comment on the European Commission’s Inception Impact Assessment ‘Legislative proposal on substantiating green claims.’ We recommend the European Commission to further explore option 2 ‘Establish a voluntary EU legal framework enabling companies to make green claims in accordance with the Environmental Footprint methods, as a complement to existing methods (developed by private or public entities, at national or international level),’” the Policy Hub noted.
“We are convinced that a collaborative effort to support the development of the standardized tools and methodology is needed for substantiating environmental and social claims,” its statement continued. “Therefore, we are in favor of the Product Environmental Footprint methodology to substantiate sustainability claims made on product level. For claims made on brand level we cannot support the Organizational Environmental Footprint, given its methodological short-comings and issues with scalability.”