The European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN), the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE), and the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) are among the signatories calling for a “simplified procedure” to be introduced under the EU’s Green Claims Directive – streamlining the verification process for claims that are based on recognized methodologies or do not require a full life cycle assessment (LCA).

According to a report undertaken by the European Commission in 2022, 53% of environmental claims made in the EU were ‘vague, misleading, or unfounded’. 40% were said to be completely unsubstantiated.

The Commission’s New Consumer Agenda, introduced in 2020, aims to protect consumers against ‘greenwashing’ – confusing, deceptive, or outright false information about a product’s environmental impact. Now, in line with the Directive to Empower Consumers for the Green Transition, the Green Claims Directive seeks to propose more specific rules.

In its initial proposal, the directive intended to set detailed rules requiring business-to-consumer commercial practices to adequately substantiate and communicate their environmental claims. It was suggested that Member States should require companies to back their environmental claims through an assessment, although no specific method was prescribed.

This would apply to certification and labelling schemes and voluntary claims made by sellers; comparative environmental claims would also be held to certain requirements. However, unless they requested the verification, microenterprises would not be expected to substantiate their claims or communicate them in line with the Directive’s rules.

Requirements would also be set for environmental labelling schemes. Member States would need to set out procedures so that claims could be approved by a verifier, ex-ante, in line with the Directive’s requirements. This would then result in a certificate of conformity for the claim or label.

On 14th February 2024, the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) and Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) adopted their report with 85 votes in favour, 2 against, and 14 abstentions. The report said that the verification process should take place within thirty days; and that Member States should consider the claim’s complexity, and the size of the companies requesting verification and certification, in the cost of the procedure.

It went on to call for a report covering environmental claims for products containing toxic substances and weigh up the need for restrictions or prohibitions on explicit environmental claims in such cases. Climate-related compensation and claims of emissions reduction based on carbon credits can only be used for a company’s residual emissions, with the proposed regulation setting up an EU certification framework under which the carbon credits would need to be certified.

Representatives and stakeholders from each Member State would be implemented into a ‘green claims consultation forum’, and the proposed directive would apply to small companies 42 months after its entry into force.

It was also recommended that a delegated act should establish a “simplified verification system” for certain environmental claims. Here the industry statement signed by EUROPEN, ACE, CEPI, and more urges policymakers to ‘guarantee clarity, predictability and legal certainty for all interested parties while simplifying and reducing the burden for traders’.

In their view, providing consumers with a sustainability profile for a business or product incentivises traders to pursue sustainability-minded solutions – thus driving innovation and investments and creating industrial competitiveness. In general, the Green Claims Directive is hoped to create a level playing field by setting clear rules.

Although they support the procedure’s intentions, the signatories do not feel that the proposed framework is simple enough. The Commission’s detailed rules are thought to require duplicates of the same documentation and complicate the certification process; and it fears that a lack of deadlines for verifiers to complete the process has not been addressed in discussions among the Council.

There is also a risk of creating different approval systems between Member States, the signatories warn. A high number of environmental claims and labels requiring pre-verification are expected to increase the burden and cost for traders, delay the communication of environmental information to consumers, and go against the EU’s intent to foster Europe’s competitiveness in the green transition.

The signatories underline that the simplified procedure should be introduced immediately for claims that do not require a full life cycle assessment, such as claims related to environmental aspects. Claims based on existing methodologies like ISO, OECD, PEF, and EU Ecolabel should also be exempt, the signatories say.

They go on to argue that mandating the European Commission to adopt secondary legislation outlining substantiation and communication requirements for each type of environmental claim would stretch its resources, risk delays, and result in a positive list. Negative consequences on new claims are feared to impact the innovation process.

Furthermore, the signatories recommend that duplication of the documentation requirements between EU legislations or other awarded labels is avoided; the Directive should instead focus on claims not yet covered by law or certification processes. This is hoped to ensure that pre-existing and well-recognized labels can be applied faster.

“We need a well-designed and implementable green claims framework that will enable the achievement of EU climate and environment objectives and empower consumers to make more sustainable choices,” the statement reads. “We would welcome the opportunity of an open and transparent dialogue to ensure a future-proof practical and workable framework, for both traders and verification authorities.”

Cepi recently responded to the European Parliament’s approval of a carbon removal certification framework by calling for a definition of renewable carbon. It argued that reducing CO2 emissions in the first place should be the focus of climate policy; and that the forest carbon sink should not be relied upon to compensate for insufficient emissions reductions in other sectors.

Similarly, the packaging industry has responded to the packaging bans, PFAS limitations, rise in collection and reuse targets, and other measures adopted by the European Parliament for the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation. While most are positive that the text will help harmonize the Single Market, discussions continue around specific measures, which are feared to lead to unintended consequences.

EuRIC has also backed the Regulation’s COREPER deal as a ‘significant milestone’ in holding imported plastics to EU standards and strengthening European competitiveness. However, it questions the impact that priority access to plastic recyclate could have on the internal market.

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