Action needed to prevent misleading green product claims

The proliferation of misleading or inaccurate green product claims risks undermining consumer confidence in environmental claims and even official schemes such as the EU Ecolabel, unless action is taken to prevent misleading claims, said the European Consumers' Association (BEUC) following a meeting in Brussels to discuss the results of a study on green claims commissioned by the EC Directorate on Consumer Affairs, DG24.

There is currently no European legislation controlling environmental product claims. Consequently, consumers are often confused as to the origin of claims – whether they are simply manufacturers’ statements or are backed up by any external verification – and what is actually meant by the often vague terminology used.

This lack of clarity tends to lead to consumers disregarding all environmental claims, as it is too difficult to differentiate between genuine claims and misleading ones, Barbara Moretti of the European Consumers’ Association (BEUC) told edie.

Misleading environmental claims are a widespread problem, particularly in southern Europe, where there are much fewer controls than in Scandinavian countries. The situation is complicated by differing national systems and legal frameworks. For example, in Italy a consumer group cannot legally publicly denounce a claim as meaningless, unless it has already been declared so by the national advertising standards authority, says Moretti.

BEUC maintains that European legislation is necessary to restore consumer confidence, and is proposing that environmental claims be brought under the misleading adverts directive, that is due to be revised in the autumn of this year. Ms Fokemar of DG24 told edie that the report had identified a clear need for action and explored around thirty possible policy options. A meeting with the players involved is now planned in June to attempt to narrow down these options. While agreeing that the scope of the misleading adverts directive could be enlarged to cover environmental claims, Fokemar maintained that it is a very general directive and would not suffice to cover the problem in detail.

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