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Greenwashing Crackdown on EU Brands Making Vague Eco Claims

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European brands and companies will no longer be able to cite weak claims of carbon offsetting as regulations to battle greenwashing practices are tightened.

The European Parliament made recommendations to strengthen its legal framework, which, alongside vague net zero and sustainability claims, will also include carbon neutral/reduction claims around products and the banning of brand-owned sustainability labels and generic claims such as “green” or “eco-friendly,” without having first been publicly awarded an environmental label.

The move could also be seen as a warning of things to come for U.S. companies. U.K. regulator the Financial Conduct Authority published its proposed anti-greenwashing guidance at the end of last year, set to come into force May 31.

While the U.S doesn’t yet have a greenwashing law, the Federal Trade Commission’s updated green guides are set to be released this year. And while the document doesn’t have enforcement power on its own, the climate litigation snaking its way through the court systems could.

In recent years, brands such as McDonald’s, Ikea, Microsoft, Philips and Disney have made pledges to cut their carbon footprint.

Commenting on the new proposals, Fraser Bridges, policy manager for the World Federation of Advertisers, told ADWEEK: “Clear green claims rules could be good for both brands and consumers. Only allowing claims that consumers can trust will allow marketers to promote the amazing work being done to hit net zero targets.”

He added that in order to be effective, the proposed rules would need to be kept simple for chief marketing officers to adopt.

“Too complex, and brands become wary about talking about their work, making it harder for consumers to reward companies that are doing the right thing,” said Bridges.

He explained that another element that was also meant to be tackled by the EU was legislation around the substantiation and communication of environmental claims. This is understood to have been delayed by legal issues, as companies have issued their concerns around the process, which has the potential to be slow and costly, resulting in delays to product campaigns or inhibiting companies from making any claims.

Bridges said the EU was moving in the right direction by issuing more proportionate expectations around net zero claims.

Major brands are already coming under increasing scrutiny for their environmental claims. For example, global household goods producer Unilever is being investigated by the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority.

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