EU agrees directive banning misleading use of environmental claims on many products

Terms such as ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘biodegradable’ to be banned unless proved by an authority

An EU directive targeting widespread greenwashing and banning the use of misleading and vague environmental claims on products has been adopted by the European Parliament.

The new rules seek to ensure labels on goods will be more trustworthy for consumers.

Under the directive, agreed in Strasbourg on Wednesday, unfounded claims on products such as “environmentally friendly”, “natural”, “climate neutral” or “biodegradable” will be banned unless they can be proved. The Government has two years to transpose the directive into Irish law.

Producers will also have to ensure sustainability claims are certified or approved by established competent public authorities. The move will prompt a revised labelling regime across the EU, notably with durable goods and “white products” ranging from toasters and mobile phones to washing machines.


Vague green credentials will also be restricted under the plans. Producers will only be allowed to mark a product as “eco” or “green” when it is entirely truly greener than conventional products and certified by a trustworthy scheme such as the EU Ecolabel, according to the European Environmental Bureau.

In addition, it will not be possible to advertise a product or a company as green if only a minor aspect of the product or business has been made more sustainable. More rigorous oversight will also extend to sustainability labels, which will need to be backed up by third-party verification to ensure their credibility and reliability.

In a significant move to strengthen purchasers’ rights, the directive seeks to guarantee claims can be trusted by banning unfounded durability labels. The directive complements improved “right to repair” rules for EU consumers

Dublin Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe said consumers will be better protected from bogus “green” product labels and products that are not made to last under the Directive on Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition.

MEPs also supported new product information requirements for repairability and the introduction of an EU-wide guarantee label banning built-in features that limit how long products can last.

Speaking from Strasbourg, Mr Cuffe said: “Whether you’re buying a toaster or a washing machine, consumers want longer-lasting products and they should know, from the moment they buy a product, how long it should last and how easy it will be to repair.”

Member states will have to determine the appropriate “national competent authority” to certify products.

The directive also applies to foods, but there is already a strict labelling regime in place under EU food standards. Any food product sold as “organic’ in Ireland or in the rest of the EU, for instance, must comply with EU organic regulations and be certified by an approved body such as the Irish Organic Association.

“A lot of people are doing their bit for the planet by shopping for more sustainable options, and unfortunately some companies are taking advantage of that by making misleading or unprovable green claims to trick consumers into buying their products,” Mr Cuffe said.

“We’re clamping down on this with bans on green claims that can’t be proved and claims that are based on carbon offsetting alone.”

This meant “the onus will be on the manufacturer to provide detailed evidence, but also not to use certain phrases such as climate neutral by offsetting, [for example] by planting trees over in the middle of the Amazon”.

“Today we voted for better information on content, durability and repairability of products and by adding greenwashing to the EU’s blacklist of unfair commercial practices,” Green Party MEP for Ireland South Grace O’Sullivan said.

“A key win for the Greens was securing support for banning the practice of premature obsolescence – the practice of limiting the durability of a product on purpose, for example by making phones or appliances that are specifically designed to die after a few years of use.”

Business group Ibec welcomed the directive but warned of increased costs for businesses. “We support the development of an EU-harmonised framework which should set minimum requirements for the voluntary provision of environmental information,” a spokesman said.

“Making and substantiating green claims in a verifiable and easy-to-understand way across the EU will facilitate a level-playing field among companies in the Single Market and incentivise more sustainable production and consumption. There is a clear need to address greenwashing and make environmental claims reliable, comparable, and verifiable across the EU,” he added.

However, it was vital that there was adequate time to transition to the new rules given the complexities and costs that come with the environmental assessment and verification of products and organisations, he said. “Flexibilities are also needed to ensure sustainable businesses and products categories are not placed at a competitive disadvantage because of compliance costs. Consideration also needs to be taken into account for SMEs as verifying claims and carrying out life cycle assessments come at a considerable cost.”

The directive “is a pivotal step towards promoting genuine sustainability in the marketplace”, said Labour’s climate spokesperson Senator Rebecca Moynihan.

“The urgency to adopt this directive in Irish law cannot be overstated, as it holds the key to curbing the widespread misrepresentation perpetuated by corporations. It marks a turning point in ensuring that consumers are not misled by false advertising and that companies are held accountable for their environmental assertions,” she said.

“For far too long, companies have enjoyed the liberty of slapping ‘green’ labels on their products without any credible proof. Consumers deserve accurate information about the environmental impact of the products they purchase. It is high time we put an end to the era of unchecked greenwashing.”

She added: “In light of the urgency surrounding the climate crisis... The time for action is now, and the adoption of this directive will be a significant stride towards a more sustainable and transparent future for all.”

What will be banned?
  • Generic environmental claims, eg “environmentally friendly”, “natural”, “biodegradable”, “climate neutral” or “eco”, without proof of recognised excellent environmental performance relevant to the claim;
  • Commercial communications about a good with a feature that limits its durability if information is available on the feature and its effects on the durability;
  • 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;
  • Durability claims in terms of usage time or intensity under normal conditions, if not proven;
  • Prompting the consumer to replace consumables, such as printer ink cartridges, earlier than strictly necessary;
  • Presenting software updates as necessary even if they only enhance functionality features;
  • Presenting goods as repairable when they are not.
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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times