Greenwashing: Companies urged to ensure label claims are substantiated in light of proposed EU directive

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Greenwashing label claims Advertising Sustainability Packaging

Leatherhead Food Research has warned that food companies must act now to ensure their sustainability claims can stand up to the scrutiny of EU regulators if a draft directive came into force in 2024.

The European Commission’s Green Claims Directive aims to weed out unsubstantiated label claims that can mislead consumers by giving a false impression of the company’s environmental impacts or benefits – a practice known as ‘greenwashing’ – from credible and trustworthy eco labels.

Leatherfood Food Research, a consultancy that provides scientific and regulatory guidance to the global food and beverage industry, said businesses that operate in the EU should act now to avoid potential reputational damage. Meanwhile, UK-based operations have been told that the Competition and Markets Authority is already enforcing its own Green Claims Code and announced in January 2023 that household products, including food and beverages, would be under scrutiny.

A lucrative differentiator

The consultancy conducted research in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the UK among 10,234 adults to gauge consumer attitudes to green claims. The results showed that 37% of adults had purchased grocery products due to their green claims, while 34% said they had selected a different brand due to green claims, and 30% had chosen a product that cost more than alternatives perceived as less environmentally-friendly.

Mariko Kubo, head of scientific and regulatory affairs at the consultancy, told DairyReporter: “Green claims are voluntary in the UK and EU, so in some cases the easiest option may be to not make any green claims at all until the legislation (particularly in EU) is clearer. Where green claims are made, they need to be presented in a specific, precise and unambiguous manner, without key information being omitted.

“All food business operators, including dairy and alt dairy producers, will need credible scientific evidence to support their green claims and should be prepared to share this in a clear understandable format in the event that the claim is challenged.”

“They should also ensure claims are supported by validated data where appropriate. One common pitfall, specifically for green claims used in advertising but also relevant for claims on labels is not taking the whole lifecycle of a product/food into account when making the claim.

Asked how the UK Code compares to the EU directive, Kubo said: “The EU directive is still in draft form so we don’t know what the final version will look like yet. However, there are common themes between the EU and UK, namely that claims must be clear, not misleading and backed with evidence. There is also a parallel in the proposed amendment to the EU’s Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and the UK’s Green Claims Code – environmental features or benefits that are in fact legal requirements should not be the subject of a green claim.”

Related topics Regulation & Safety Sustainability

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