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Strengthening the effectiveness of the EU proposal for a Green Claims Directive: Going further in establishing robust credibility criteria, promoting multistakeholder participation, and supporting clear pre-approval and verification processes for sustaina

Date

16 Jun 2023

Sections

Climate & Environment

ISEAL is a global leader in defining and communicating what good practice looks like for voluntary market based approaches like sustainability standards and certification schemes. We support ambitious  sustainability systems and their partners to tackle the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges, and  we promote alignment on good practices through global multistakeholder consultation.  

We would like to reiterate our longstanding support for the Commission’s efforts to introduce more  stringent regulations to tackle greenwashing, enabling consumers to make informed purchasing decisions.  

In the analysis underpinning the proposal for Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition and the  recently proposed Green Claims Directive, the problem of greenwashing has been divided into two sub problems:  

  • the presence of misleading or confusing claims, and  
  • the presence of sustainability labels that are not meeting a minimum bar of transparency and may not  be credible  

We share this analysis of the problem. In our work to build consensus on good practices for sustainability  claims and communications, we have identified core principles that underpin credible claims. Credible  claims are clear, accurate and relevant. They are substantiated by evidence and backed up by transparent  and robust systems.

As such, we support stricter rules for sustainability claims-making as well as the establishment of criteria  that define a minimum set of expectations for credible and transparent labelling schemes. We consider  that this two-pronged approach is necessary for tackling the two sub-problems of greenwashing that the  proposed legislation seeks to address.  

We have also previously highlighted our concerns with an approach to regulating claims that would  prescribe a single standard methodology for substantiating environmental claims, such as the use of the  Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) or Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). We are pleased to see that the proposed  Green Claims Directive acknowledges the limitations of such an approach and provides for greater  flexibility. This flexibility is critical to ensuring that substantiation methods address the wide array of  significant issues, the different strategies in place for improving environmental and sustainability  performance, and the variability in operating contexts found across sectors and materials. Flexibility will  also better allow for innovation and improvement in methods.  

At the same time, flexibility when it comes to acceptable methodologies should be counterbalanced by  efforts to enable consistent evaluation of labels and by establishing strong criteria for the credibility and  transparency of the systems that underpin claims and labels.  

On this point, we would like to share some related observations that we hope can strengthen the  effectiveness of the proposal for a Green Claims Directive:  

  • While the criteria set out in article 8.2 are a strong and useful foundation to ensure schemes operate  in a credible way, we believe these criteria can go further in raising the bar. The ISEAL Credibility  Principles and the ISEAL Codes of Good Practice offer a rigorous definition of a transparent and  effective labelling scheme and could inspire a more robust set of credibility criteria to be included in  this article. For example, while 8.2.b requires that information on procedures to monitor compliance  are transparent and accessible, the criteria could be strengthened by including requirements around  the consistent and impartial implementation of the compliance process. Similarly, in 8.2.d, the  requirements are to be submitted for consultation to a heterogeneous group of stakeholders. While  this is important, it is equally important that a cross-section of stakeholders have a role in the decision making on those requirements to ensure the societal relevance that is aspired to.  
  • We believe that the criteria set out in article 8.2 generally apply to all sustainability and environmental labelling schemes. We note that prohibiting sustainability labels not meeting minimum transparency  and credibility requirements is also the preferred policy option outlined in section 3.2.1 of the  explanatory note. As such, we remain concerned that the goals of providing legal certainty and  ensuring a level playing field will be affected by the fact that these criteria are defined only in the  proposed Green Claims Directive rather than as part of the lex generalis set out in the proposal for  Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition, and as such do not address social sustainability  issues. Our concerns about the relationship between the objectives and the scope of the lex generalis and the lex specialis are also heightened by the potential breadth of exemptions from the scope of the  proposed Green Claims Directive. At a minimum, we would call for the criteria in Article 8.2 of the lex  specialis be included in the lex generalis in order to ensure it be required of sustainability and  environmental schemes operating in domains that are now or have become exempt from the scope of  application of the Green Claims Directive but remain under scope of the lex generalis.  
  • We continue supporting a pre-approval process for labelling schemes in the EU marketplace. However,  to ensure a fair and consistent approach to verifying schemes, we call for the centralisation of such a  process, or at a minimum clear process for pre-approval outlined in the directive to ensure clear and  consistent interpretation at member state level. A variety of procedures implemented by a wide variety of authorities across the EU marketplace, whereby interpretations and processes are not  aligned, would create significant inconsistency within the marketplace. There is also the possibility of  unintended consequences, such as undue burdens being placed on less capacitated national  authorities, or a risk of shopping around for most favorable interpretations. Given many schemes act  across member states clearly stating the process in which member states pre-approval should be  sought is key. In addition, further clarity on pre-approval is desired, clarity on what constitutes a new  labeling scheme or added value as stated in article 8.5 is needed.  
  • Similarly, at the level of verification, a mechanism such as interpretive guidance will be necessary to  provide sufficient detail on the interpretation and application of the requirements of articles 3-7 to  ensure that verifiers are consistently interpreting and applying these requirements. Verifiers should  also be held to a high standard of transparency and competence, and we recommend that further  consideration be given to defining the scope of compliance requirements (article 11.3) against which  verifiers will be accredited. Additional clarification is needed on who the verifier can be and the  procedures they must follow. In particular, additional guidance is needed to consistently interpret the  requisite technical competence required of verifiers in 11.3.c and the expertise required to perform  the verification activities as in 11.3.d. 
  • Finally, we believe it is imperative that consideration is given to the need for continuous improvement  for schemes and how this is acknowledged and recognized in the directive. Continuous improvement  is a core principle underscoring credible claims and as such processes to enable the directive should  incentivize rather than disincentivize this. For example, when schemes go through revisions what  impact does this have on existing pre-approval status.  

We welcome the EU Commission’s proposal for a Green Claims Directive as it is essential that consumers  can trust green claims and logos to ensure a shift towards truly more sustainable consumption. Proven and  reputable international standards and certification systems that have adopted credible practices have an  important role to play in this transition, and we are happy to see the EU building on these market systems.  Finally, we have at heart a market where not only consumers are protected and empowered but also where  companies that are making significant investments and progress towards leveraging the positive impacts  of their products and supply chains are rewarded. 

 

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