“Companies can no longer trick people”: European Parliament adopts directive cracking down on greenwashing
18 Jan 2024 — The European Parliament (EP) has approved a new directive banning greenwashing and deceptive product information to protect consumers from misleading marketing practices and promote sustainable choices. The directive, adopted yesterday with overwhelming support — 593 votes in favor, 21 against and 14 abstentions — aims to overhaul product labeling and restrict misleading environmental claims.
The legislation, known as the Directive on Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition (ECGT), takes a decisive stand against “vague and baseless” green claims. Among the key provisions, the directive prohibits the use of general environmental terms such as “environmentally friendly,” “natural,” “biodegradable,” “climate neutral” or “eco” without substantiated proof.
EP’s rapporteur Biljana Borzan said: “This law will change the everyday lives of all Europeans. We will step away from throwaway culture, make marketing more transparent and fight premature obsolescence of goods.”
“People will be able to choose more durable, repairable and sustainable products due to reliable labels and advertisements. Most importantly, companies can no longer trick people by saying that plastic bottles are good because the company planted trees somewhere — or saying something is sustainable without explaining how. This is a big win for all of us.”
Calls for complementary policies
While the directive addresses misleading green claims, some campaigners believe more could be done to combat early obsolescence and barriers to repair.
Among the key provisions, the directive prohibits the use of general environmental terms without substantiated proof.Miriam Thiemann, a European Environmental Bureau (EEB) campaigner, acknowledges the law’s positive steps but highlights the need for stronger rules to make durable, repairable products the norm.
“This law cuts through the smoke of misleading green marketing, putting a leash on shady claims and boosting the credibility of sustainability labels. People will also have access to more information about the durability and reparability of products before buying them,” she comments.
Highlights of the directive
1. Sustainability labels: Only sustainability labels backed by official certification schemes or established by public authorities will be permitted, addressing the confusion caused by the proliferation of labels lacking comparative data.
2. Durability focus: Guarantee information will be made more visible, and a new harmonized label will be introduced to highlight products with extended guarantee periods. The directive bans unfounded durability claims, prompts for early consumable replacement and false advertising of goods as repairable.
3. Consumer empowerment: The directive aims to empower consumers by providing accurate and reliable advertising, enabling them to choose products that are more durable, repairable and sustainable.
Regrets over missed chances
The EEB welcomes the law as “an important step to counter corporate greenwashing.” The organization details that currently, 75% of the products on the EU market carry an implicit or explicit green claim, but more than half of these claims are vague, misleading or unfounded, while almost half of the 230 ecolabels available in the EU have weak or no verification procedures. The directive will now undergo final approval from the Council, followed by publication in the Official Journal.
At the same time, the environmental group states that campaigners regret that the EU missed a chance to ban other unfair practices, such as early obsolescence and barriers to repair.
“While the new law requires information on product repairability and durability to be made available to consumers at the point of sales, there are no further obligations to make products more long-lasting or repairable,” EEB writes.
“The law also fails to ban early obsolescence, the business practice of intentionally limiting the lifetime of a product to encourage replacement purchase. While it will be forbidden for traders to advertise faulty products to consumers, this will only apply if they are aware of the problem: a condition that will be difficult to prove in practice.”
The directive will now undergo final approval from the Council, followed by publication in the Official Journal. Member states will have 24 months to incorporate the directive into national legislation.
EEB states that campaigners are also closely monitoring the development of additional policies that will complement the provisions of the ECGT Directive.
By Radhika Sikaria
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