News Item

Combatting greenwashing, protecting consumers

Industry smoking chimneys with forest overlay.
Green? Carbon neutral? Many of these claims are not evidence-based. Companies use them to persuade people to buy products or services that may not be sustainable. Such greenwashing practices may deceive consumers and harm the environment. A new report from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) considers what the EU and countries should do to combat greenwashing and support consumers in making informed and environmentally friendly choices.

Some companies use deceptive advertising or marketing tactics to boost their environmental credentials. Examples range from using product names or labels that sound more natural, even if they contain harmful chemicals, to instituting campaigns that portray polluting companies as eco-friendly.

FRA’s report ‘Enforcing consumer rights to combat greenwashing’ identifies gaps in existing laws and their application. It shows how a human rights approach can help combat greenwashing:

  • Strengthen the enforcement of consumer rights – rules should make it harder for companies to make misleading environmental claims and easier for consumers to prove that companies are engaged in greenwashing. Fines for misleading marketing claims should be dissuasive to deter companies from misleading customers.
  • Substantiate claims – claims such as ‘CO2-reduced’ or ‘climate-friendly’ should be based on scientific criteria. Carbon neutrality claims and carbon offsetting should be banned or limited if not supported by clear and verifiable commitments.
  • Ensure access to information – companies should be obliged to disclose information about the environmental impact of their products and services.
  • Improve the legal framework – the EU’s unfair commercial practices Directive already allows authorities to address misleading green claims. But until recently greenwashing was not explicitly covered so interpretations of the Directive varied across Member States. New EU rules on green claims should provide more clarity and establish clear criteria for companies making green claims.
  • Simplify the supervisory system – in some countries, multiple authorities oversee different consumer rights. The EU should introduce more cohesive rules to avoid confusion and ensure effective enforcement.
  • Incorporate sustainability into consumer protection policy - consumer laws should address the environmental impact of products and services. This could include incorporating clear sustainability criteria in warranty law and transparent product labelling.  
  • Make collective action more accessible – in some countries, there are limits on the ability of civil society to bring legal action. Countries should make it easier for civil society organisations to use collective action to address the growing number of environmental claims made by businesses.
  • Raise awareness and provide guidance – countries should raise awareness among consumers and should train authorities, judges and lawyers on greenwashing. They should also provide guidance and support for businesses to help them comply with environmental obligations.
  • Follow rules on due diligence and reporting – laws on due diligence to ensure companies avoid harmful practices, such as the EU’s proposal for a corporate sustainability due diligence directive (CSDDD), could play an important role in protecting consumers and the environment.

The report examines the laws in 10 EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal). It provides practical examples, identifies areas that need improving and offers solutions for closing existing legal gaps.