EU clampdown on companies’ greenwashing claims moves closer, controversial PEF model dropped 

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The European Commission this week set out proposed new rules intended to stamp out misleading environmental claims, in the form of its draft Directive on Green Claims. The new rules would mean that any companies making green claims – such as ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’ – would need to provide much more information to consumers to justify their claims, including not hiding any important environmental impacts. Climate-based claims that rely heavily on offsets, for example, are likely in future to be illegal. 

An assessment of green claims and sustainability labels carried out for the Commission in 2020 showed that:

  • 53% green claims give vague, misleading or unfounded information
  • 40% of claims have no supporting evidence
  • Half of all green labels offer weak or non-existent verification
  • There are 230 sustainability labels and 100 green energy labels in the EU, with vastly different levels of transparency

The Commission has previously warned that a proliferation of weak labels and certification schemes has encouraged greenwashing rather than reduce it. But, significantly, the draft Directive appears to rule out using the controversial Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) system as a single EU-wide approach to measuring and communicating impact. 

The organic sector, along with leading environmental NGOs, have criticised previous suggestions that PEF should form the basis for substantiating all environmental product claims across the EU. PEF, they have warned, contains serious “blind spots” – ignoring impacts on biodiversity and pesticide use, for example – meaning that its scoring system often favours intensive farming and penalises organic.

IFOAM Organics Europe has welcomed publication of the Substantiating Green Claims Initiative, particularly “the acknowledgement that Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) methodologies like the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) are not relevant to evaluate the environmental impact of bio- sourced products such as food and textiles”. 

Jan Plagge, IFOAM Organics Europe’s president, said: “Fighting greenwashing, providing meaningful information to consumers on the impact of the food products they buy, and incentivising producers to adopt truly sustainable practices, are essential to transition towards sustainable food systems. 

Eduardo Cuoco, IFOAM Organics Europe’s director commented: “We welcome the improvements made by the Commission to the substantiating green claims proposal. The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method is indeed not designed to reflect the reality of complex agri-food systems in a multi-dimensional way. The PEF does not properly consider the use of inputs like pesticides, negative and positive externalities of different agriculture production methods on biodiversity, soil quality, deforestation nor planetary boundaries. 

Image: Still from European Commission video on greenwashing 

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