The European Parliament has voted in favour of adopting new legislation that will strengthen the fight against what is commonly known as ‘greenwashing’: the use of unconfirmed, vague ‘green’ claims about goods and services that are at best misleading and in the worst case, simply untrue. The legislation also addresses the issue of early obsolescence.
With 544 votes to 18 and 17 abstentions, Parliament approved the proposal submitted by the Commission in March of this year.
In that proposal, an environmental claim is defined as ‘any message or representation, which is not mandatory under Union law or national law, including text, pictorial, graphic or symbolic representation, in any form, including labels, brand names, company names or product names, in the context of a commercial communication, which states or implies that a product or trader has a positive or no impact on the environment or is less damaging to the environment than other products or traders, respectively, or has improved their impact over time’.
It therefore covers the use of such general environmental claims as ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘natural’, ‘biodegradable’, ‘climate neutral’ or ‘eco’ if these are unaccompanied by detailed evidence as well as claims that are based solely on carbon offsetting schemes. Nor will manufacturers be allowed to make claims about a product that are solely applicable to only a part of that product, or make false claims about the durability or usage of products.
In the view of the MEPs, only sustainability labels based on official certification schemes or established by public authorities should be permitted to be used.
In the fight against early obsolescence, Parliament proposes to ban the introduction of design features that limit a product’s life or lead to goods malfunctioning prematurely. Additionally, producers should not be allowed to limit a product’s functionality when it is used with consumables, spare parts or accessories (for example chargers or ink cartridges) made by other companies.
In addition, consumers would have to be informed of any repair restrictions before making a purchase. As well, Parliament proposed the introduction of a new guarantee label indicating the term of the legally required guarantee and that of any possible guarantee extensions offered by producers, as a means to highlight quality goods and motivate companies to focus more on durability.
After the vote, rapporteur Biljana Borzan, a member of Parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee from Croatia commented that ‘the industry will no longer profit from making consumer goods that break just as the guarantee period is over’.
“Product labels will inform citizens which goods are guaranteed to last longer and producers whose goods are more durable will profit. The jungle of false environmental claims will end as only certified and substantiated ecological claims will be permitted,” she declared.
With the adoption of the proposal, negotiations between the Parliament and the member states on the final content and wording of the directive can start soon.