Fighting Greenwashing. Forging a Green Europe

Ultimately, consumers have shown a lot of frustration at not knowing which claims are reliable and which are misleading

With all of us becoming so much more aware of the need to preserve our environment and fight climate change, it is no wonder that many companies, organisations and governments speak about and advertise their green credentials.

But have you ever found yourself questioning whether what is being claimed is truthful or not? Are some of these claims simply greenwashing exercises and what are the repercussions of such a situation on those that are truly making big efforts to work, manufacture and offer products and services that respect the environment?

Greenwashing exercises have become common place and are threatening to erode the very foundations of environmental trust and integrity. In a study, the European Commission found in 2020 that 40% of investigated environmental claims in the European Union were baseless, while 53% were ambiguous, deceptive, or unfounded. This is allowed to happen due to the gap in existing laws, with no regulations on green claims.

This is not merely a European reality, it is a global one. The Guardian in the United Kingdom investigated a number of green carbon offsetting claims made by large multinationals and found that 92% of them were fake or exaggerated.

When before summer I was tasked by the Socialist Group to lead the European Parliament negotiations on the new law proposed by the Commission, I made it a point that we must reach a Parliament position by the end of the mandate, even if this was only a few months away. This legislature's legacy will undoubtedly be its environmental fight and my wish is to close the remaining gaps in legislation.

The Green Claims Directive will require companies to substantiate any of their environmental claims. We want a system where it will no longer be acceptable for anyone to claim that they have an environmental products or services without actually there being a process to verify such claims. This verification process should be based on robust, science based and verifiable methods.

To do this, I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all law. Assessing the environmental footprint of a product or service or of an organisation must be done in a different way, in different sectors. As an example, one cannot have the same methodology to assess the manufacture of clothes to the services given in the Hotrec industry.

This piece of legislation must also differentiate between multinationals and big companies and our SMEs and micro enterprises. Studies show that small companies are more flexible and are better agents for innovation. At the same time, they are among the most honest on their environmental credentials. 84% of people tend to trust local businesses more than the big chains and multinationals when it comes to various claims.

Micro enterprises are the engines of our economy in Europe. This is even more so in Malta. They drive job creation, they grow the economy and increase social cohesion. Many of them also strive to do things with an environmental conscience and while they will be exempted from the law, because we believe that they should not be burdened administratively, they can opt-in themselves to acquire certification of their products, services or organisation.

Ultimately, consumers have shown a lot of frustration at not knowing which claims are reliable and which are misleading. That said, in their majority, consumers believe that there are systems in place that verify such claims. It's time to close the gap, protect consumers, bolster competitiveness and ensure that the fight to protect the environment and fight climate change is a real one, rid of fraudsters who simply want to make a good buck out of genuine consumers.