Eco, green, carbon neutral: the words banned by the EU to stop greenwashing

Last month the EU finalized a new law aimed at curbing greenwashing, which will ban the use of terms such as “carbon neutral” or “eco” in product claims unless they can be proven.

In March this year, the European Union Commission presented a proposal for a directive to combat misleading advertising, which promotes products, services and corporate images as more environmentally friendly than they actually are. This practice misleads consumers and constitutes an obstacle to the real transition towards a sustainable economy.

Parliament and the Council have now reached a provisional agreement on new rules banning misleading advertising and calling for better product information to be provided to consumers.

The agreement updates the existing EU list of prohibited business practices and adds to it several problematic marketing habits related to greenwashing and premature obsolescence of goods. The aim of the new rules is to protect consumers from deceptive practices and help them make better purchasing choices.

In fact, according to a 2021 survey in four EU countries, 53% of consumers cannot identify greenwashing claims on product packaging. A recent Commission study assessed 150 EU-wide environmental claims across a wide range of product groups, finding that a considerable proportion (53.3%) provided vague, misleading or unsubstantiated information on the environmental characteristics of the product (in advertising as well as on the product itself).

In the fashion industry, several lawsuits involving misleading environmental claims have captured media attention. Prominent brands have been the subject of complaints or public scrutiny by consumer authorities or consumer groups due to misleading claims. Last year, we saw H&M revoke their “Conscious” label and Zara’s “Join Life” label. Similarly, Asos has opted to remove the “Responsible Edit” line and implemented filtering measures on its website. Additionally, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) has suspended its consumer transparency program (Higg Index) after the Norwegian Consumer Protection Authority deemed it “misleading.”

Greenwashing – What can’t be said?

Regarding greenwashing, negotiators from Parliament and Council agreed to proscribe the following:

  • generic environmental claims, e.g. “environmentally friendly”, “natural”, “biodegradable”, “climate neutral” or “eco”, without proof of recognised excellent environmental performance relevant to the claim;
  • claims based on emissions offsetting schemes that a product has neutral, reduced or positive impact on the environment;
  • sustainability labels not based on approved certification schemes or established by public authorities.

We will no longer hear slogans about carbon neutrality.

“There is no such thing as ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘CO2 neutral’ cheese, plastic bottles, flights or bank accounts”,

said to Financial Times Ursula Pachl, vice director of BEUC (The European Consumer Organisation).

Carbon neutral claims are greenwashing, plain and simple. It’s a smoke screen giving the impression companies are taking serious action on their climate impact. The truth is that these claims are scientifically incorrect and should never be used. We are delighted to see that the EU has seized this legislative opportunity to ban carbon neutral claims.”

The terms the EU Parliament and Council agreed ban include:

Read also Greenwashing: i 7 peccati da evitare.

There are many words not to use. The rationale is to ban generic environmental statements unless companies can provide “proof of recognised excellent environmental performance relevant to the claim”.Evidence could include compliance with official EU regulations or recognized eco-labelling schemes (e.g. ecolabel).

Statements should be based on reliable, independent, verifiable and generally recognized evidence, taking into account the latest scientific methods and results. Practitioners should have the necessary evidence to support their claims when using the claims, or be confident that they can obtain and submit it upon request. Truthful, complete and accurate news, as well as corroborated by credible and up-to-date scientific evidence. The scientific substantiation of green claims must be made available to the authorities who request it.

“Generic environmental claims are popping up everywhere, from food to textiles”,

explained Pachl.

“Consumers end up lost in a jungle of green claims with no clue about which ones are trustworthy. Thankfully, the new rules are putting some order in the green claims’ chaos. Companies will have to explain why a product is environmentally friendly. This is crucial if we are to guide consumers to make more sustainable consumption choices”.

The EU directives document explains that, for example, the claim ‘biodegradable’, referring to a product, would be a generic statement, while saying that “the packaging is biodegradable by home composting in one month” would be a specific statement, which does not fall within this prohibition. Furthermore, companies cannot make an environmental claim on the entire product when in reality it only refers to a specific aspect, as in this case the biodegradability claim refers only to the packaging: indicate that the product is biodegradable if it’s just the packaging is deceptive. Another example is the environmental claim that highlights only one of the product’s impacts on the environment, while overall the environmental impact is high. Indicating that “the product is low water consumption” when at the same time it consumes more energy than a similar product in the same category is one of potentially misleading statements regarding the nature of the product or its main characteristics.

Premature obsolescence of products 

Also durability claims in terms of usage time or intensity under normal conditions will be banned, if not proven. Companies will not be able to urge consumers to replace consumables, such as printer ink cartridges, sooner than necessary. Additionally, you may not promote products as repairable when they are not, or present software updates as necessary even if they only enhance functionality features.

A new extended warranty label will clearly show which products last the longest; therefore, it will be easier to purchase more durable products. Recent studies show that up to 80% of EU consumers say they struggle to find information on how easy it is to repair a product.

How far as we progressed?

In order to become law, the provisional deal will now have to get the final OK from both the Parliament and the Council, but it is rare for EU lawmakers to refuse such approval. The vote by MEPs is expected to take place in November. When the directive comes into force, member states will have 24 months to incorporate the new rules into their law.

Although the European Union’s favorable vote on this directive represents a step forward, progress on the two related laws covering environmental product declarations and citizen empowerment has remained stalled. These two laws include the “Green Claims Directive” and the “Carbon Removal Certification Framework”, both presented earlier this year.

Green Claims Directive

The Green Claims Directive is oriented towards the verifiability and transparency of environmental claims related to products. Its main purpose is to provide consumers with confidence that what is advertised as eco-friendly is actually reality. This initiative aims to allow consumers to make informed purchasing decisions based on clear and understandable information. Furthermore, the directive aims to support companies working to improve the environmental impact of their products and services, promoting their competitiveness. This initiative is in line with the objectives of the EU “Green Deal” to promote the transformation of the economy and society towards greater sustainability. The directive also integrates with existing European regulations, including those relating to consumer protection and environmental standards.

Parliament’s rapporteur Biljana Borzan commented on the agreement as follows:

“We are clearing the chaos of environmental claims, which will now have to be substantiated, and claims based on emissions offsetting will be banned. We have achieved an excellent deal for consumers.

60% of European consumers are not even aware a legal guarantee comes with all products. That changes today, with a reminder to be present in every shop in the EU and also in some cases on packaging”.


“Consumers have a crucial role to play in the green transition, so it’s good news they will have more information to make sustainable choices when buying food, new clothes or home appliances. The new EU rules will enable consumers to navigate through a sea of green claims and choose durable products that live up to expectations”,

declared Pachl.

We will continue to follow steps to crack down on companies that practice greenwashing.

Sources European Parliament; Commissione Europea; GreenQueen; Financial Times; Recover Fiber.


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