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Sustainable consumption: Generic or vague environmental assertions will be prohibited

Greenwashing ban and new EU consumer rights.

On 30 March 2022, the European Commission proposed to update EU consumer protection rules to empower consumers in the green transition. Thanks to the new rules, consumers will be able to make informed and environmentally friendly purchasing choices and will have the right to know the expected lifetime of a product and how it can be repaired, where possible. The rules will also strengthen consumer protection from unreliable or false environmental claims by prohibiting greenwashing and misleading practices about the durability of a product.

Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, said: "The issue is simple. If we don't start consuming more sustainably, we won't achieve the goals of the European Green Deal. Although most consumers want to contribute, we have seen an increase in greenwashing and premature obsolescence. In order to become real actors in the green transition, consumers must have the right to be informed to make sustainable choices and must be protected from unfair commercial practices that abuse their interest in buying green products".

A new right to information on the durability and reparability of products.

The Commission proposes to amend the Consumer Rights Directive to oblige manufacturers to inform consumers about the durability and repairability of products.

Durability: Consumers must be informed about the guaranteed durability of products. If the producer of a consumer good offers a commercial guarantee of durability of more than two years, the seller must inform the consumer. For energy-using goods, the seller must inform consumers even when the producer does not provide information on the existence of a commercial durability guarantee.

Repairs and upgrades: the seller must provide repair information, such as the repairability index (if applicable), or other repair information made available by the manufacturer, such as the availability of spare parts or a repair manual. For smart devices and digital content and services, the consumer must also be informed about software updates provided by the producer.

Manufacturers and sellers will decide the most appropriate way to provide such information to the consumer, be it on the packaging or in the product description on the website. In any case, such information must be provided prior to purchase and in a clear and comprehensible manner.

Prohibition of greenwashing and planned obsolescence

The Commission proposes several changes to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. First, the proposal extends the list of product characteristics about which a company may not mislead the consumer to include environmental or social impact, durability and repairability. It also adds new practices that are considered misleading based on an assessment of the circumstances of the case, such as making an environmental statement about future environmental performance without including clear, objective and verifiable commitments and targets and without an independent monitoring system.

Finally, it amends the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive by adding new practices to the existing list of prohibited unfair commercial practices, the so-called "black list". The new practices will include, among others:

  • failing to inform consumers of the existence of a feature introduced into the good to limit its durability, such as software that interrupts or degrades the functionality of the good after a certain period of time

  • making generic or vague environmental claims where the excellence of the environmental performance of the product or the trader cannot be demonstrated. Examples of generic environmental claims are 'environmentally friendly', 'eco' or 'green', which incorrectly suggest or give the impression of excellent environmental performance

  • making an environmental declaration about the whole product when in fact it only covers a particular aspect

  • displaying a voluntary sustainability label that is not based on a third-party verification scheme or established by public authorities

  • failing to inform that the good has a limited functionality when using consumables, spare parts or accessories not supplied by the original manufacturer.

The amendments aim to provide legal certainty but also to facilitate enforcement in cases of greenwashing and premature obsolescence of products.

Ensuring that environmental claims are fair will allow consumers to choose products that are actually better for the environment than their competitors. This will encourage competition by pushing for more environmentally friendly products, thus reducing negative impacts on the environment.

Next steps

The Commission's proposals will now be discussed by the Council and the European Parliament. Once adopted and transposed into Member States' national legislation, they will guarantee consumers' right to redress in case of infringements, including through the collective redress procedure under the Directive on representative actions.

Proposals to revise EU consumer law were announced in the New Consumer Agenda and the Action Plan for the Circular Economy. The revisions aim to support the changes in consumer behaviour needed to achieve the climate and environmental objectives of the European Green Deal.

In preparing the proposal, the Commission consulted over 12,000 consumers as well as businesses, consumer experts and national authorities. Verification of the reliability of environmental product declarations was identified as the most significant barrier to consumer participation in the green transition. About half of the responses indicated a willingness to pay extra for a product that lasts longer without having to be repaired.

Research shows that consumers are faced with unfair commercial practices that actively prevent them from making sustainable choices. Premature obsolescence of goods, misleading environmental claims, non-transparent and non-credible sustainability labels or sustainability information tools are common practices.

The proposal is part of the European Commission's broader goal of making the EU the first climate neutral continent by 2050. The proposal will be complemented by other initiatives, including the Sustainable Products Initiative and forthcoming initiatives on demonstrating the veracity of eco-declarations and on the right to redress (for which a public consultation is open until 5 April 2022).

On 23 February 2022, the European Commission adopted the proposal on the Business Sustainability Duty of Care, which sets clear rules for businesses to respect human rights and the environment and to conduct themselves in a sustainable and responsible manner.

M.Cacace - Source:food_tech

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