Consumers need reliable, comparable and verifiable environmental claims in order to make fully informed decisions. However, a 2020 study found that more than half of the environmental claims offer vague, misleading or unfounded information.

The directive sets minimum requirements for the substantiation, communication and verification of explicit environmental claims.

Alain Maron, Minister of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region, responsible for climate change, environment, energy and participatory democracy, said that "today, we reached an important agreement to fight greenwashing by setting rules on clear, sufficient and evidence-based information on the environmental characteristics of products and services. Our aim is to help European citizens to make well-founded green choices."

This new proposal specifically targets explicit environmental claims (written or oral text) and environmental labels that companies use voluntarily when marketing their greenness and which cover the environmental impacts, aspects or performance of a product or trader. It also applies to existing and future environmental labelling schemes, both public and private ones.

The general approach draws a distinction between explicit environmental claims and environmental labels, in order to clearly specify the obligations applicable to each, including which requirements apply to both.

Clearer and evidence-based claims

Companies should use clear criteria and the latest scientific evidence to substantiate their claims and labels. Moreover, according to the general approach, environmental claims and labels should be clear and easy to understand, with a specific reference to the environmental characteristics they cover (such as durability, recyclability or biodiversity).

The general approach maintains the fundamental principle of the ex-ante verification of explicit environmental claims and environmental labels, as provided for in the Commission proposal. This means that any green claim would have to be verified by third-party independent experts before being published.

At the same time, it introduces a simplified procedure to exempt certain types of explicit environmental claims from third-party verification: eligible companies should prove their compliance with the new rules by completing a technical document, which must be completed before the claim is made public.

While microenterprises will be subject to verification according to the general approach, they will also have 14 months more than other businesses in order to comply with those rules.

Several support measures have been added to help SMEs, including microenterprises, throughout the procedure. These include the provision of guidelines and tools and additional measures to reduce the administrative burden for farmers. They may also include financial support and training.

Acknowledging the importance of existing national or regional public labelling schemes, ministers agreed on the possibility of establishing new schemes and exempting those regulated by EU or national law from third-party verification, provided the latter meet EU standards as regards both procedures and standards.

According to the general approach, EN ISO 14024 type 1 ecolabeling schemes will be exempt from verification if they are officially recognized in a member state and comply with the new rules. Recognition by one member state would be sufficient for the whole EU market.

The general approach introduces new requirements to prove climate-related claims, including those involving carbon credits.

Climate-related claims are often based on carbon credits generated outside the company’s value chain, for example from forestry or renewable energy projects. The general approach includes the obligation to provide information about the type and quantity of carbon credits, and whether they are permanent or temporary, among others.

The Council’s position also distinguishes between:

  • contribution claims (carbon credits to contribute to climate action)
  • offset claims (carbon credits to balance out an emissions share)

In offset claims, companies must prove a net-zero target and show progress towards decarbonization, as well as the percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions that have been offset.

The Council’s general approach will form the basis for negotiations with the European Parliament on the final shape of the directive. Negotiations are expected to begin in the new legislative cycle.

In a recent Eurobarometer survey, 90% of Europeans agreed that there should be stricter rules for calculating environmental impact and related environmental claims.

The Commission published the proposed directive, which complements the recently adopted directive on empowering consumers for the green transition, on 22 March 2023.

The proposal follows up on the European Green Deal’s commitment to tackle false environmental claims at EU level. The aim is to accelerate the green transition towards a circular and clean economy in the EU. This directive contributes to the overall objective of achieving climate neutrality in the EU by 2050.