On Wednesday 8 November, TIC Council and DEKRA hosted a hybrid event titled "Ensuring a Good Green Claims Directive", aimed at facilitating an exchange between key stakeholders and policymakers on the opportunities and risks to the implementation of the Directive.
In his introductory remarks, MEP Engerer emphasized the belief in the necessity of greater harmonization and collaboration to empower consumers and strengthen industries, with special attention to supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in moving towards sustainability. He then outlined ten key objectives that they would like to achieve with this proposal:
Sebastian Bartels discussed Article 11 of the draft legislation, which mentions the independent verifiers as the TIC companies. He began by emphasizing that many stakeholders, including consumers, often underestimate the crucial role played by the TIC sector in certifying the sustainability of products and claims. Sebastian emphasized that consumers genuinely want to make environmentally responsible decisions, but they expect this burden not to fall on them. He identified two key areas that need to be addressed: ensuring that all environmental information presented is robust, consistent, and provable, and having a third party verify these claims. The latter is where the TIC sector plays a vital role. The TIC sector, which is experienced in verifying product safety for over 150 years, can apply its expertise to environmental certifications. The industry can help establish robust criteria and conduct impartial, unbiased verifications, leading to the creation of reliable environmental labels. While there are existing environmental certificates in the market, only a few are considered robust, and more are needed to meet the demand for credible environmental information. He underlined the readiness of the TIC industry to support the development of such labels and conduct verifications. This support is essential for making environmental claims more reliable and helping consumers make sustainable choices while contributing to a greener and more sustainable future.
Malgorzata Golebiewska mentioned that there is a need for the proposal due to concerns regarding unfair commercial practices and a lack of trust in labels among consumers. Moreover, the proposal according to her, helps level the playing field among companies, ensuring that businesses with credible environmental practices can compete equally. She explained that companies must do their homework and prove the factual basis for their claims, a responsibility that the proposal places on businesses rather than consumers. Verification by independent verifiers is critical for building trust among consumers. Ms Golebiewska elaborated on key aspects of the proposal, including requirements for substantiation based on science and international standards, taking into account product life cycles. The legislation also sets requirements for transparency, high integrity of sets, correct accounting, and governance of labeling schemes. Independent verification and enforcement are essential components of the proposal, allowing competent authorities to focus on claims without certificates of conformity and other pertinent areas.
Finally, Blanca Morales provided a brief overview of the Greenwashing Study, which will be published by BEUC on 28 November. The study aimed to understand consumer perceptions and experiences with greenwashing. The results demonstrated that consumers often struggle to differentiate between misleading and reliable claims. Many consumers mistakenly believe that claims are already verified by third parties. The study revealed that consumers expect strong regulation to protect them from greenwashing, including authorized claims that have been previously verified. On the Green Claims Directive, she noted that while the proposal contains strong requirements for substantiation, they often remain general and open to interpretation. BEUC raised concerns about verifiability and called for more detailed rules for different types of commonly used claims in priority sectors. They proposed a public database for registered claims and assessment methods to ensure transparency and scrutiny, similar to the food regulation model. Moreover, she stressed the importance of environmental labeling schemes in simplifying verification procedures. BEUC supports the idea that claims based on certain recognized schemes should not require additional independent verification. However, they also recommended streamlining procedures for environmental labeling schemes to avoid overburdening them. Ms Morales stated that the aim of the legislation should not be to reduce the number of labels but to ensure that all labels meet strict requirements. Labels with aggregated scores should not be banned, provided they are transparent, based on robust governance, and offer a ranking of products.
Sebastian Bartels reacted by saying that Article 11 of the proposed legislation introduces three levels of scrutiny to benefit consumers. These levels are incorporated to ensure that schemes are reliable and trustworthy. The first level is self-assessment, which requires any scheme to validate the data they provide. The second level focuses on the verification bodies responsible for certifying schemes. These bodies must demonstrate independence, competence, and integrity. They also need to maintain processes that allow individuals to voice concerns. The third level involves the surveillance of individual certificates to ensure that they are used correctly according to the agreed-upon standards. Market surveillance will monitor how companies apply the certificates in practice. Accreditation is a crucial element in the process. Accredited bodies are instrumental in verifying the technical competence, independence, and integrity of verification bodies. They act as oversight to guarantee that these bodies are well-equipped to conduct proper assessments.
On the harmonization in the context of green claims and verification processes within the European Union, MEP Engerer stressed the need for greater harmonization of certificates of conformity across the EU. This would help establish a single European market and eliminate the requirement for translations into different official languages, making it easier for verifiers and stakeholders to understand and verify claims consistently. The harmonization of the substantiation of the most common claims identified by the Commission would be achieved through the adoption of a delegated act, with the active involvement of stakeholders to ensure that these claims are verified uniformly. He then highlighted the importance of national competent authorities exchanging best practices. Sharing knowledge and experiences would encourage the development of more harmonized procedures, not only for green claims but across various domains. Finally, he touched upon the issue of widely recognized scientific evidence. There were discussions regarding the inclusion of specific standards or criteria for scientific evidence, such as the Paris Agreement or ISO standards. While the development of a comprehensive standard was ongoing, efforts were being made to provide some clarity on what scientific evidence would be recognized to promote harmonization.
MEP Engerer answered a question on the forum for stakeholders to assist the European Commission in drafting secondary legislation. This forum draws inspiration from a similar initiative in the context of the ecodesign directive. The intent is to bring together a range of interested stakeholders, including NGOs and consumer protection organizations, to ensure that delegated acts reflect the realities on the ground. The forum is designed to empower the Commission and contribute to well-informed and inclusive decision-making processes.
A question from the audience addressed the situation where there is no suitable eco-label available for a product. In such cases, manufacturers may need to rely on individual claims and do the necessary work to substantiate these claims. The proposal does not favour any specific type of claim over another, and manufacturers are encouraged to substantiate their claims thoroughly. The requirements and substantiation processes are designed to encourage companies to adopt broader assessments that consider multiple aspects and prove significant environmental impacts from a lifecycle perspective.
Another question from the audience highlighted the role of the digital product passport (DPP) in relation to the Green Claims Directive. Blanca Morales emphasized that the DPP will need to provide mandatory information, customized based on delegated acts for different sectors. The DPP is seen as having a complementary role and can work well in conjunction with the green claims directive by serving as a means to provide evidence for substantiating voluntary claims. Malgorzata Golebiewska also explained that once the DPP is established, it could serve as a valuable space for the publication of substantiation requirements in line with the directive's articulation. The DPP is viewed as a one-stop-shopping information source for consumers, further emphasizing its significance in the context of the green claims directive.
The last question to MEP Engerer focused on the need for ambitious yet achievable environmental laws, taking into account the diverse realities on the ground, the challenges faced by SMEs, and the importance of minimizing administrative burdens for these businesses. He emphasized that environmental legislation should strike a balance between ambition and achievability, considering the unique circumstances of different regions and industries. It should also be inclusive, with a focus on reducing administrative burdens for SMEs and providing them with incentives to contribute to environmental and climate goals.
In summary, the key takeaways from the debate include the need to enhance the substance of the directive with clear requirements on commonly used claims, particularly in priority sectors. The emphasis is on reducing room for different interpretations to avoid the risk of continued greenwashing. The initiative is seen as a great opportunity to create a better world for EU consumers and future generations, requiring collaboration among all stakeholders.
Moreover, the focus on voluntary communication is highlighted, emphasizing that companies should view it as a necessary part of their responsibility to consumers who expect transparency on sustainability. The overarching theme is transparency, both in claims and verification, ultimately benefiting consumers.