HomeConsum-actorsEmpowering Consumers for the Green Transition, green light from the EU Parliament

Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition, green light from the EU Parliament

The European Parliament approved at first reading, on 17 January 2024, Directive (EU) 2024/825 on consumer empowerment for the green transition (ECGT – Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition). (1) The measure seeks to limit sustainability claims and other greenwashing tactics by companies that limit consumers' right to make sustainable purchasing choices. However, forecasts regarding planned obsolescence and the possibility of repairing assets remain weak. An in-depth look.

1) Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition. Reform needs

Purchase choices of consumers are increasingly turning to products that boast environmental and social sustainability characteristics. Many companies have therefore started using 'green claims' such as 'echo,environmental friendly'and'respectful of animals', to make its products more competitive in the market.

The absence of rules uniform standards on 'green claims' in the EU has, however, favored the proliferation of unfair commercial practices, such as:

  • greenwashing, i.e. partial, disproportionate and misleading claims on environmental sustainability
  • unreliable and non-transparent labels and commercial communication, as well as
  • planned obsolescence. (2)

2) Consumer protection, ongoing EU reforms

The European Commission has therefore started a process of reform of Directives 2005/29/EC (unfair commercial practices), 2011/83/EU (consumer rights). With a first albeit partial result in Directive 2019/2161 (3,4).

Such reforms pursue the objectives of protecting the right of consumers to make informed environmental choices and thus actively contribute to the green transition in the EU, in line with the Green Deal and Circular Economy strategies (5,6).

3) Greater protections against unfair practices, Directive 2005/29/EC

The European Parliament, with its amendments to articles 6 and 7, introduced new hypotheses of commercial practices:

  • always incorrect, therefore prohibited (Annex I)
  • potentially misleading, to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

3.1) Potentially misleading statements

Can be classified as deceptive commercial practices:

  • statements which boast environmental, social characteristics (i.e. quality and fairness of working conditions) or aspects of circularity (durability, reparability, recyclability) relating to products which are found to be untrue or correct, and therefore capable of misleading the consumer (in reform of the Directive 2005/29/EC, art. 6.1, new letter b)
  • environmental declarations (6) where it is stated that a product or brand or operator has a positive, null or 'less harmful' impact on the environment, or has improved their impact over time, if not accompanied by clear, objective and accessible commitments to the public. To this end, operators must prepare detailed and realistic implementation plans that include measurable objectives over time and other elements, such as resource allocation (art. 6.2, new letter d)
  • advertising of products with 'green' characteristics that are irrelevant to consumers and not directly correlated with the characteristics of the products themselves
  • presentation of the products as advantageous for the environment or the consumer himself by virtue of characteristics common to products of the same category (art. 6.2, new letter e).

3.2) Relevant information

The misleading omissions they occur whenever products are compared through partial analyzes of their environmental, social characteristics or aspects of circularity (i.e. durability). This practice once again prevents consumers from making purchasing decisions based on objective and complete information.

The professionist which provides and presents the product comparison service must therefore offer relevant information, understood as 'information on the comparison method, the products being compared and the suppliers of such products, as well as the measures taken to keep this information up to date' (art. 7, new paragraph 7).

4) Always unfair commercial practices

Commercial practicesalways unfair and therefore prohibited a priori, listed in Annex I to Directive 2005/29/EC, are integrated by the following:

  • display a sustainability label (7) that is not based on a certification system or established by public authorities (new point 2a). Sustainability labels must guarantee the minimum conditions of transparency and credibility and must be monitored by a third-party, independent body
  • make an environmental statement such as 'ecological,green,environmental friendly' and so on, when it is not possible to demonstrate the excellence (8) of the claimed environmental performance (new point 4a)
  • 'make an environmental claim about the whole product or the whole activity of the operator when it concerns only a certain aspect of the product or a specific activity of the company' (new point 4b). For example
  • 'when a product is marketed as “made from recycled material” giving the impression that the entire product is made from recycled material, when in reality only the packaging is made from recycled material, or
  • when a trader gives the impression that only renewable energy sources are used when in reality many of the trader's business facilities still use fossil fuels'
  • make claims about offsetting carbon-neutral, reduced, or positive greenhouse gas emissions, such as 'climate-neutral','limited CO2 footprint','compensated from a climatic point of view', as they are deceptive. Such claims are only permitted if they are based on the actual impact of the entire life cycle of the product (new point 4c)
  • boast an aspect of the product as characterizing it, compared to other products of the same category, when it is instead imposed by law (new point 10 up to). For example, you cannot boast the absence of a harmful substance within the product if that substance has been prohibited by law and is therefore absent in all products of that category.

5) Circular economy, poor protection

The new Directive it has a weak impact on the circularity aspects of goods, i.e. on the planned obsolescence and repairability of goods. Although European legislators (Commission, Parliament and Council) are aware of the amount of waste that these practices produce and the higher costs for consumers, the new rules only introduce information obligations on the part of producers and sellers of the products.

In general terms, information on the durability and repairability of the product must be provided to the consumer before the conclusion of the purchase contract. The failure to provide such information or the provision of false information are in any case considered unfair and prohibited practices, therefore included in Annex I to Directive 2005/29/EC, as set out in the following paragraph.

'People will also have access to more information about the durability and repairability of products before purchasing them. But we still need stronger rules to make products durable and repairable' (Miriam Thiemann, European Environmental Bureau, responsible for sustainable consumption policies). (9)

5.1) Planned obsolescence

Planned obsolescence of a product consists of a marketing strategy aimed at limiting its lifespan and/or use, due to the use of poor quality materials or the inclusion of features that reduce its lifespan. The draft Directive in question includes the following unfair practices in Annex I to Directive 2005/29/EC:

  • hide from consumers that the software update will have a negative impact on the digital device, such as slowdown or decreased application performance (new point 23d)
  • present an update as necessary when in reality it only improves the functionality of the device (new point 23e)
  • promote goods to which a characteristic has been introduced that reduces their lifespan, when the professional has information on the characteristics available. This ban should always affect professionals who produce such goods, as it is they who determine the durability of the product (new point 23f)
  • falsely claim that a good has a certain durability in terms of time or intensity of use in 'normal conditions of use' which neglect those actual and known to the producers (new point 23g)

5.2) Reparability of goods

Further unfair practices introduced by the draft Directive under consideration concern the provision of information regarding the repairability of goods. The new prohibitions concern:

  • present a product as repairable that in reality is not (new point 23h)
  • induce the consumer to replace or replenish the consumables of a good earlier than necessary for technical reasons (new point 23i)
  • hide from the consumer information on the deterioration of the functionality of a good when using consumables, spare parts or accessories not supplied by the original manufacturer
  • falsely claim that the functionality of a good is limited or compromised if non-original spare parts are used (new point 23j).

Customers they must also be informed before the conclusion of the contract about the repair services and the reparability score, pursuant to Directive 2011/83/EU art 5.1.e. (10) If there is no repairability score, traders should still inform consumers about 'availability, estimated cost and procedure for ordering the spare parts necessary to maintain the conformity of the good, availability, repair and maintenance instructions and limitations on repair' (art. 5.1, new letter j).

6) Guarantee of durability and harmonized labels

The EFSA and ECDC's One Health report of the Commission demonstrates how consumers are not aware of their rights in terms of legal guarantees of conformity and possible commercial guarantees of durability, since there is still a lack of specific information obligations in these regards.

Harmonized labels and harmonized notices are therefore introduced in the draft Directive under examination, with the precise aim of making this information clear and easily understandable, through the reform of Directive 2011/83/EU (in its Chapter V, new article 22-up to).

6.1) Harmonized notice

The harmonized notice contains the main elements of the legal guarantee of conformity, namely its two-year duration foreseen by Directive (EU) 2019/771 and the possible possibility of a longer duration, under national law.

6.2) Harmonized label

The manufacturer has the right to provide a commercial guarantee of durability for its product with a duration of more than two years (Directive (EU) 2019/771 art. 17). In this case the manufacturer is directly responsible to the consumer for the entire period in which the commercial guarantee of durability is provided, for the repair or replacement of the good if it does not maintain its durability.

Then, the manufacturer must provide the information to the trader, accompanied by a reminder of the existence of the legal guarantee of conformity, in a visible way, through the harmonized label (Article 5(1), new point 6 up to).

Such a forecast It also applies to digital content and services. In this case, the manufacturer or supplier of the digital product must make available to the trader information about the period of time during which he will provide software updates (Article 6(1), new letter I up to).

7) Perspectives

Advice is now called to approve the draft Directive. After agreement on its final text by the three institutions (Commission, Parliament and Council), it will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union.

Member States they will have two years from its entry into force (20 days after publication in the OJEU) to adopt the measures necessary to introduce the new Directive into national legislation, provided that it is passed before the end of the legislature.

La Green Claims Directive – which defines the precise obligations of operators to demonstrate and communicate environmental credentials (11) – and the Right to Repair Directive (12) instead they will lapse, in all likelihood, with the end of the current legislature.

Dario Dongo and Alessandra Mei

Footnotes

(1) Directive (EU) 2024/825 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 February 2024 amending Directives 2005/29/EC and 2011/83/EU as regards empowering consumers for the green transition through improvement of protection from unfair practices and information https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/IT/TXT/?uri=OJ:L_202400825

(2) A 2020 Commission study found that 53,3% of environmental claims examined in the European Union were vague, misleading or unfounded, and 40% of these were completely unfounded. See Commission staff working document COM(2022) 143 final http://tinyurl.com/bd35b4t

(3) Elena Bosani. Consumer rights in contracts, the European Commission clarifies. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 16.4.22

(4) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. Unfair commercial practices, the Consumer Code in the digital age. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 27.3.23

(5) Communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. A new action plan for the circular economy and for a cleaner and more competitive Europe. COM/2020/98 final https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/IT/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52020DC0098

(6) For 'environmental declaration' means any environmental statement made in written or oral form, including through audiovisual means, that is not included on a sustainability label and where the specification of the statement is not provided in clear and conspicuous terms on the same medium. (Directive 2005/29/EC, art. 2, first paragraph, new point o).

(7) For “sustainability label" means any voluntary trustmark, quality mark or equivalent, public or private, which aims to distinguish and promote a product, process or undertaking by reference to its environmental or social characteristics, or both, and excludes any mandatory labeling required by Union or national law. (Directive 2005/29/EC, art. 2, first paragraph, new point q).

(8) Generic environmental claims are statements such as 'ecological’, 'climate friendly packaging', 'biodegradable,friend of nature', and so on. Such claims will no longer be accepted if the claimed excellent performance is not demonstrated. For example, 'climate-friendly packaging' is a generic statement, while stating that '100% of the energy used to produce this packaging comes from renewable sources' is allowed

(9) EEB. New EU law empowers consumers against corporate greenwashing. 17.1.2024 https://eeb.org/new-eu-law-empowers-consumers-against-corporate-greenwashing/

(10) The repairability index is a system approved by the European Parliament in 2022, but not yet adopted by Member States, except in France. It applies to electronic products and household appliances and provides a rating from 1 to 10 calculated on 5 items:
– Documentation made available,
– Easy disassembly,
– Availability of spare parts,
– Price of spare parts, e
– Specific criteria linked to the product category.

(11) Dario Dongo. Green Claims Directive, Brussels' weak proposal against greenwashing. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.3.2023

(12) Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on common rules promoting the repair of goods and amending Regulation (EU) 2017/2394, Directives (EU) 2019/771 and (EU) 2020/1828 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52023PC0155

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

Alessandra Mei
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Graduated in Law from the University of Bologna, she attended the Master in Food Law at the same University. You participate in the WIISE srl benefit team by dedicating yourself to European and international research and innovation projects.

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