Greenwashing: How to communicate without misleading? – Lexology
In the face of the climate crisis, the interest in sustainability issues is growing. This increasingly brings the issue of greenwashing to the fore. “Greenwashing” refers to creation of a false impression among the public regarding the supposedly green practices applied by a business or the environmental benefits of its goods and services. Typically greenwashing is used to raise the attractiveness of goods or services in the eyes of prospective buyers, and thus to increase sales and attract customers. But sometimes the spread of misleading ecological messages is simply due to ignorance.
It is clear that the increase in global consumption is increasing pressure on the environment. In turn, more and more often consumers want to make informed, environment-friendly choices, guided by information presented by manufacturers or retailers. On average, half of Poles claim that they are paying increasing attention to environmental and ecological issues when shopping for consumer goods and are willing to pay more for products if they are recyclable or have been manufactured sustainably (ING Think Forward Initiative, “Report: Poles’ choices and sustainability,” September 2021). In this process, consumers have the right to reliable information about the environmental impact of the products they intend to buy.
The EU perspective
On 30 March 2022, to strengthen the position of consumers in this respect, the European Commission published a draft directive amending the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and the Consumer Rights Directive (currently, the proposal is at the stage of first reading in the Council of the European Union under procedure No. 2022/0092/COD). The proposal is intended to enable consumers to make informed and environment-friendly choices when purchasing products and strengthen consumers’ protection against unreliable or misleading environmental claims by outright banning practices bearing the hallmarks of greenwashing.
Under the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, the list of product features regarding which the business should not mislead consumers is to be amended. Among other things, the list is to be expanded to include “environmental or social impacts.”
The directive lists commercial practices considered misleading, i.e. those causing or likely to cause the average consumer to make a decision regarding a transaction that he or she would not otherwise have made. Among other things, the practice of formulating statements regarding environmental friendliness, related to future environmental efficiency, without clear, objective or verifiable commitments or targets and without an independent monitoring system, will be added to the list of such practices.
Additionally, the list of trade practices deemed to be prohibited in any case will be expanded to include:
- Displaying a sustainability label not based on a certification system or established by public authorities
- Making an environmental claim for an entire product when the claim applies only to a specific aspect of the product.
Activity of the Polish regulator
In Poland, the president of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) has observed that issues related to ecology, including the environmental impact of a product or its packaging, may constitute important information for consumers and thus influence their decision to purchase a …….