European Members of Parliament have backed a draft proposal for sustainable and durable products aimed at combating a rise in greenwashing from brands and retailers.

The new rules which were proposed in March stated:

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  1. General, unsubstantiated environmental claims should be banned;
  2. Limiting product durability by design should not be allowed;
  3. A product should still function well with spare parts and consumables from a different manufacturer.

Ban on generic environmental claims in advertising

The approved negotiating mandate foresees banning the use of general environmental claims such as “environmentally friendly”, “natural”, “biodegradable”, “climate neutral”, or “eco” if these do not come with detailed evidence. Other misleading practices such as making claims about the whole product if the claim is true only for one part of it or saying that a product will last a certain amount of time or can be used at a certain level of intensity if that is not true, will also be forbidden.

MEPs envision allowing only sustainability labels based on official certification schemes or established by public authorities to be used in order to simplify product information.

Opposing early obsolescence

MEPs also seek to combat early obsolescence by banning the introduction of design features that limit a product’s life or lead to goods malfunctioning prematurely. Additionally, producers should not be allowed to limit a product’s functionality when it is used with consumables, spare parts or accessories made by other companies.

To help people choose more lasting and repairable goods, buyers would have to be informed of any repair restrictions before making a purchase. A new guarantee label indicating not only the length of the legally required guarantee but also the length of any possible guarantee extensions offered by producers is also proposed.

After the vote, rapporteur Biljana Borzan said: “The industry will no longer profit from making consumer goods that break just as the guarantee period is over. Consumers will have to be provided with information about the options and cost of repairs in a clear manner. Product labels will inform citizens which goods are guaranteed to last longer and producers whose goods are more durable will profit. The jungle of false environmental claims will end as only certified and substantiated ecological claims will be permitted.”

The Council of the EU adopted its own negotiating mandate on 3 May, and negotiations between the Parliament and the member states on the final content and wording of the directive can begin soon.

The proposed directive is part of the first circular economy package, which paves the way for a new green claims directive that will further specify the conditions for making environmental claims in the future.

Last month the EU Commission defended its approach to rolling out the Substantiating Green Claims proposal, specifically against allegations it failed to recognise the value of the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) methodology.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) criticised the proposal as a “missed opportunity for the European Commission to be a global frontrunner on sustainability and fulfilling ambitions set out in its Green Deal.”

The SAC said the draft proposals from the EU Commission fall short of its stated ambition to address greenwashing “at a time when only swift and drastic action can avert irrevocable damage to the world.”

Speaking to Just Style, an official for the EU Commission explained the tool was “not the most “appropriate approach” for the Substantiating Green Claims Proposal.”