Will these four advertising tricks soon be banned?
From “climate-positive” to “plastic-negative” – clever marketing professionals cannot be accused of lacking creativity when it comes to putting a product’s alleged sustainability attributes in the shop window. The upcoming amendment of the EU Consumer Protection Regulation will also regulate green claiming in the future and will put the brakes on such pseudo eco-promises. flustix shows which deceptive packages will be put on the index.
Sustainable is in, we want organic, eco, environmentally conscious – and that as cheap as possible and with the most modern product properties. Sometimes, however, this is not feasible for manufacturers and retailers. In order to be able to meet the customer’s wishes, however, absurd sustainability promises are often created and trumpeted, misleading consumers. In the EU Commission’s latest study on greenwashing, 150 environmental claims for various products were evaluated. The result: 53.3 percent of the claims contained vague, misleading or unfounded information about the environmental properties of the products – both in advertising and on the product itself.
The EU wants to prevent this even more strictly in the future. A catalog of measures is designed to protect consumers from greenwashing: False advertising promises about ecological and social impacts, durability or reparability of a product are to be banned.
These four tricks are on the EU’s blacklist:
Trick 1: Good intentions. Companies advertise vague environmental promises in the future that do not even include clear and verifiable commitments and targets or have no independent monitoring system.
Trick 2: Self-made seals. Products are advertised with their own sustainability seal that is not based on a certification system or parameters set by government agencies.
No-microplastic seal. Large drugstore chains or retailers have created and introduced their own seals, advertising among other things with a “formula without microplastics” – and have already labeled several hundred detergents and cosmetic products with it. Sounds great, but the details and statements of these supposed seals are difficult or impossible for consumers to understand. In addition, there are neither independent tests nor any independent evaluations of the products by third parties. This is solely a label promise, and there is no question of official seals.
Plastic negative seal. A swimwear manufacturer advertises with the “Plastic Negative” label. Pretty brazen, because their products contain plastic fibers and are therefore of course not even plastic neutral. But the manufacturer promises that for every gram of plastic removed from its products, they remove twice as much plastic waste from the environment. Specifically, they donate to an environmental project that collects plastic waste and incinerates it in cement plants.
Trick 3: Green blah blah. The product is advertised with environmental claims where the excellent environmental performance of the product or company is neither traceable nor verifiable.
To be included on the EU index are statements such as “environmentally friendly”, “environmentally friendly”, “eco”, “green”, “nature friendly”, “ecological”, “environmentally friendly”, “climate-friendly”, “environmentally friendly”, “CO2 friendly”, “pollutant-free”, “CO2 neutral”, “CO2 positive”, “climate neutral”, “energy efficient” “biodegradable”, “bio-based”. Broader claims such as “conscious” or “responsible” that suggest excellent environmental performance are also to be banned.
In May of this year, Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) issued warnings to several companies, asking them to refrain from advertising with slogans that could not be backed up. DUH managing director Jürgen Resch spoke of a “CO2 blow-off trade with which companies are washing their hands of green”. In the pillory of the environmental aid: prominent enterprises such as Beiersdorf, Shell, BP as well as the drugstore chains dm and Rossmann. Read more here.
Ocean plastic: A certain manufacturer of an eco-cleaning agent did not make a general environmental claim, but did advertise that its dishwashing liquid bottle (“Ocean Bottle”) was “made with 50 percent plastic waste from the sea. However, because it could not prove that the waste actually came from the sea, the court declared the advertising to be misleading – and banned the imprint.
Trick 4: One part for the big picture. Environmental claims are made about the entire product, even though they only refer to a specific component of the product.
In March 2020, the Munich Higher Regional Court prohibited a coffee capsule manufacturer from labeling its capsules as “plastic-free.” In the reasoning for the ruling, the court stated that the statements regarding the absence of plastic were “likely to mislead the average consumer since only 62 percent of the capsules consist of renewable raw materials, but the remaining 38 percent contain ingredients that are not renewable raw materials and therefore do not occur as such in nature.
The ruling is rather an exception. In other cases, the courts ruled more generously in favor of the companies. For example, a producer of pasture milk is still allowed to use a claim with a 71 percent reduction in CO2 emissions – even though this referred to the packaging and not to the milk contained. In such cases, the EU now wants to intervene in the interests of consumers.
There is not much time left before greenwashing will be banned, and manufacturers, as well as distributors, must now take a stand. The EU Commission’s proposed amendment to EU Directives 2005/29/EC and 2011/83/EU is currently being discussed between the member states and in the EU Parliament – and could be implemented in Q4 2023.
Until then, the Unfair Competition Act (UWG) will continue to apply in Germany. This generally regulates the inadmissibility of misleading advertising. However, the law in Germany does not yet contain any explicit bans on certain eco-claims. In individual cases – as mentioned above – it is always up to the courts to decide. This could change if greenwashing is soon banned throughout the EU and then enshrined in law in Germany.