“Green Washing” products online prevalent and often misleading; EU authorities

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Recent investigations conducted by the European Union and National Consumer Protection authorities have deemed numerous “green” claims made on product websites as mostly exaggerated, misleading and potentially illegal. 

There has been a considerable increase in the environmental claims made by corporations as consumers continue to demand more sustainable goods leading to widespread “greenwashing”, where companies overstate their environmental credentials to influence the purchase decisions of the shoppers.

While conducting an investigation into the “green” claims by various organizations, mostly on online stores and a few traders’ websites in November 2020, the European Union and National Consumer Protection discovered that the problem was extensive.

The Study 

The investigation conducted by the authorities assessed 344 “seemingly dubious” sustainability claims made online by businesses in sectors including clothing, cosmetics, household equipment and travel services.

The assessment revealed that 42 percent of cases were considered as a false, deceptive, and potentially unfair commercial practice under EU law due to some factors involved with the service or product.

While 37 percent of cases used vague terms without substantiating them, traders in most cases failed to provide enough information to the customer to substantiate the claim’s accuracy.

Sharing its view on the assessment, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) stated that “Terms such as ecological, organic, and environmentally friendly were used frequently and without substantiation,” adding that the body is in its rights to impose fine businesses that make false or misleading sustainability claims.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders opined that while some organizations work hard to produce eco-friendly products, “there are also unscrupulous traders out there, who pull the wool over consumers’ eyes with vague, false or exaggerated claims.”

Even though the Commission did not name the businesses it scrutinized under the assessment, it did affirm that the body will raise any concerns and ensure they are fixed.