A guide to the EU’s proposed LCA / Sustainability updates

Published on
March 6, 2023
Maggie Spicer

Even when consumers try to make sustainable purchasing decisions, they often face an uphill battle due to confusing sustainability claims and a lack of clarity about the longevity and durability of the products on the market.

To combat this problem, the European Commission has presented new initiatives aimed at helping consumers move towards a ‘green transition’ and make more environmentally-friendly choices.

Below, we’ve outlined what these new initiatives include and how brands can prepare to meet the evolving standards on product sustainability, circularity, and durability.

What is the EU Green Deal?

These updates are part of a larger movement within the EU Green Deal aimed at sustainable consumption. The EU Green Deal is a series of policy initiatives with the ultimate goal of the EU becoming the first climate neutral continent by 2050. 

A key part of the EU Green Deal’s effort to mobilize industry for a clean and circular economy involves using “reliable, comparable and verifiable information” to enable buyers to make “more sustainable decisions” and reduce the risk of ‘greenwashing.’” [link if needed]. 

Why is the EU Concerned?

 A public consultation found that verifying the reliability of a product’s environmental claims was the biggest obstacle to improved consumer participation in the green transition. Consumers often face sustainability labels and tools for communication that are unclear, lack transparency, or are not credible sources of information. And as Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for Justice, stated: “If we do not start consuming more sustainably, we will not achieve our European Green Deal goals - it is as simple as that. … To become the real actors of the green transition, consumers must have a right to information to make sustainable choices. They must also be protected against unfair commercial practices which abuse their interest in buying green.

What are the Proposed Updates? 

The updates were set out by the European Commission in a series of Proposals. The first would amend two key consumer protection directives: the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) and the Consumer Rights Directive (CRD) (together, the Directives). This Proposal also aligns with the EU’s Green Claims initiative, which aims to create standardized guidelines for the substantiation of green claims - for example, by using Product and Organisation Environmental Footprint methods.

From a consumer perspective, these changes promote a more circular economy by allowing products to be evaluated and selected based on sustainability. This is accomplished through two main objectives:
1. By updating consumer rights and targeting ‘greenwashing.’
2. By helping consumers make more sustainable purchases. 

The second Proposal, known as the Green Claims Directive, focuses specifically on substantiation and communication of environmental claims. The aim of this Proposal is to make green claims reliable, comparable, and verifiable across the EU. By establishing baseline standards for how companies substantiate their environmental claims, as well as how companies communicate those claims, this Proposal seeks to level the playing field for businesses and assist consumers in their sustainable purchasing decisions. Notably, the Green Claims Directive introduces marketing verification requirements before claims can be made and put on the market.    

1. Consumer Rights and Greenwashing

 To target greenwashing (i.e., the practice of using vague or misleading marketing claims about the environmental credentials of a product or service), the Proposal adds 10 sustainability-related items to a list of “unfair” commercial practices, including: 

1. Displaying a sustainability label which is not based on a certification scheme or not established by public authorities.

2. Making a generic environmental claim for which the company is unable to demonstrate “excellent environmental performance” relevant to the claim. Examples of such generic environmental claims include: 

3. Making an environmental claim about the entire product when it actually concerns only a certain aspect of the product.

4. Presenting elements of the product that are legally required as a distinctive or unique feature of the product.

In addition, the Proposal adds new commercial practices that would be considered misleading, such as making a claim related to future environmental performance without clear, objective, and verifiable commitments and targets which are being independently monitored (for example, advertising that a brand is committed to “net-zero” emissions by 2050).

2. Sustainable Purchasing and Durability

The Proposal aims to facilitate environmentally-friendly consumer purchases covering not only physical and tangible goods, but digital products, content, and services as well. The Proposal would update the information considered a product’s main characteristics to include environmental and social impact, durability, and repairability, about which companies are prohibited from misleading consumers. Consumers would be provided with more information to facilitate their purchasing decisions, such as information on how long a product’s durability is guaranteed.

3. Reliable, Comparable, and Verifiable Claims

The Green Claims Directive further builds on the updates above by proposing measures targeting marketing claims about the environmental impacts, aspects, or performance of a product.

The goal of these measures is to ensure that consumers receive reliable, comparable, and verifiable environmental information on products and includes the following: 

  1. Clear criteria on how companies should prove their environmental claims and labels.
  2. Requirements for these claims and labels to be checked by an independent and accredited verifier. 
  3. New rules on governance of environmental labeling schemes to ensure they are solid, transparent and reliable. 

While these measures target specific green claims made by businesses, they do not cover claims that are currently covered by other EU rules. For example, if existing EU legislation establishes more specific rules on green claims for a particular sector or product category, such as the EU Ecolabel or the organic farming label, those rules would prevail.

From the European Commission's exploration on Green claims

Most of these rules are still being discussed at an EU level and it is not clear when they will come into force. If adopted, EU Member States would need to adopt the changes into local law within 18 months. Once enacted, consumers will be able to claim for remedies of any breaches of these rules (for example, for companies engaging in the prohibited commercial practices outlined above). 

What can brands do to prepare? 

Although these changes are unlikely to come into effect until at least 2024, businesses should monitor updates and start to evaluate their own internal processes. Complying with these provisions depends on providing clear, substantiated information to consumers. Assess your business’s commercial practices against the proposed list. Generic environmental claims (for example, the claim “biodegradable” for a product) should be avoided in favor of more specific, substantiated claims (for example, a claim that a product’s packaging “is biodegradable through home composting in one month”). Green claims should be independently verifiable and proven with scientific evidence.

How Provenance can help

Provenance can help brands meet these new requirements by empowering them to:

  • Be transparent about the environmental and social characteristics of your brand and products by using accurate and specific language. 
  • Correctly attribute your claims to a specific product or component of a product. 
  • Add clarity and depth to your marketing claims utilizing Provenance Proof Points
  • Display the substantiation behind your claims.

Provenance has a number of tools to help brands focus on addressing and communicating their priority issues first, enabling brands to avoid misleading their customers while also highlighting what matters most. 

For example, the Impact Summary on the Provenance Directory is a strong step towards integrating comprehensive transparency to help shoppers understand the full impact behind a product. Remember, most consumers are looking for brands to show honesty and progress, not perfection.

Pai Skincare currently has 11 Proof Points (sustainability claims) across 4 impact areas; Waste, Nature, Workers, Communities. As yet, it doesn’t have any Proof Points relating to Climate.

Provenance also helps empower thousands of shoppers to make sustainability-led purchases through the Provenance Directory.  It’s home to hundreds of brands, each of which lists its fact-checked sustainability claims (via Proof Points) allowing shoppers to buy in line with their values. Take a look!

Maggie Spicer

Maggie is the founder of Source Beauty ESG. She combines a background as a supply chain lawyer for global technology companies with experience in skincare product design to help beauty brands and retailers with sustainability-focused compliance, design, and strategy.

The Provenance Team

Provenance powers sustainability claims you can trust. The global leader in sustainability marketing technology, Provenance helps brands and retailers share credible, compelling and fact-checked social and environmental impact information at the point of sale. Provenance’s technology is already increasing conversion rates, brand value and market share for customers including Cult Beauty, Douglas, GANNI, Napolina, Arla and Unilever

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