In an effort to appeal to an increasingly environmentally-conscious consumer market, creative marketing teams are sometimes prone to exaggerate the sustainability of their products for marketing purposes.

Greenwash is the practice by which companies claim they are doing more for the environment than they actually are. To address this problem, in 2021, the European Commission and National Consumer authorities screened websites from various sectors across the EU, including clothing, cosmetics and household equipment, to analyse any green online claims against ‘greenwashing’,

The findings were shocking, with more than 50% of traders unable to adequately substantiate their claims:

  • 42% of cases: claims presented on the websites were exaggerated, false or deceptive and could potentially qualify as unfair commercial practices under EU rules
  • 59% of cases: the trader had not provided easily accessible evidence to support its claim
  • 37% of cases: the claim included vague and general statements such as “conscious”, “eco-friendly”, etc

The results have fed into the development of new policies.

Empowering consumers for the green transition

To mitigate this burgeoning problem, the EU’s New Consumer Agenda is designed to equip consumers with better information on the sustainability of products.

Consumers will have the right to know how long a product is designed to last and whether it can be repaired. The updated rules also include a ban on untrustworthy and false environmental claims and are designed to encourage brands to move towards more sustainable and “circular” products.

A central facet of this legislation is the introduction of a new, verifiable policy that will be implemented to track the legitimacy of green claims.

Ultimately, the rules are designed to empower consumers to make more informed choices about the products they buy.

More than 50% of traders were unable to adequately substantiate the 'green' claims they were making on their websites

Examples of Greenwashing

There are currently over 200 sustainability labels used across the EU, from the Tidy Man to more complex and specific instruments like the EcoLabel.

At present, companies can use these logos to convey to consumers that purchasing their product constitutes a ‘sustainable choice’ – whether this is true or not.

The EU’s new Substantiating Green Claims initiative will require companies to prove any environmental declarations against a standardised methodology.

There will also be bans against other practices, including claiming a product is “made with recycled materials” when only the packaging is recycled. Phrases like ‘climate neutral’ will be blacklisted unless accompanied by supporting information.

Implementation of the Substantiating Green Claims initiative

As with other EU policies, nations will be able to implement these guidelines in a way that is relevant to them, for instance:

In the UK

The UK has produced new guidance from the Competition Markets Authority (CMA) on greenwashing and a new Green Claims Code (2021).

In the UK, claims must:

  • Be truthful, accurate, clear and unambiguous, and substantiated
  • Not omit or hide relevant information
  • Consider the full life cycle of the product or service

This guidance has been added to in the recent EPR consultation response (March 2022). As of March 2026, it will be mandatory to label packaging for recycling, including a ‘do not recycle’ on all compostable/biodegradable packaging.

In Italy

Italy is taking a different approach. Biodegradable and compostable plastic packaging is certified in accordance with EN 13432, and recycling is encouraged as part of food waste collections.

The Biorepack consortium is the first European Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system dedicated to biodegradable and compostable plastic packaging, certified UNI EN 13432 and a supply chain consortium of the CONAI system.

Recent communications campaigns have shown Italian citizens how to recycle their compostable packaging correctly.

Criticisms of the news agenda

There are criticisms surrounding definitions in the policy and inclusion of factors such as the level of recyclability of products.

It is argued that the directive has focused too heavily on the carbon intensity of packaging production when much production is likely to transition to renewable alternatives soon. As a result, businesses should be aware that these metrics are likely to be updated to expand the methodology in the years ahead and incorporate more waste.

What do brands need to do?

We suggest you think twice when looking to position something you are selling as ‘eco-friendly’. That could be the use of eco-labels, product labelling, brand positioning and advertising. Based on the sweep of consumer brand websites, there is a high likelihood that your brand is making some unsubstantiated greenwashing claims, albeit unwittingly. If so, you could be subject to punitive measures.

How can Root help?

We have delivered our Clean Claims Framework to a number of clients who are now developing policy-proof marketing for their packaging. We’ve also developed a global labelling system for a multi-national FMCG business, which delivers commercial and resource savings to their artwork, brand, and marketing teams.

Find out more about Root services

To book an initial appointment to discuss your requirements, email us on impact@root-innovation.com.