Labeling and packaging with sustainability centre stage: a new directive against greenwashing

Labeling and packaging with sustainability centre stage: a new directive against greenwashing.


As European institutions continue working towards sustainability, the issue remains at the forefront of the political arena and industry in various fields, in particular packaging and labels.


With the debate on the revision the PPWR, i.e. the directive governing packaging and packaging waste, now drawing to a close, there is a rising risk of clamp-downs affecting various categories and aspects of packaging - including materials and formats - with the aim of reducing the amounts of plastic waste produced. These choices have become the source of great discussion among manufacturers along the supply chain, because they are often guided by an ideological vision of sustainability, rather than by proper metrics. Life cycle assessments (LCAs), for instance, are one of the leading methods to obtain a series of objective parameters with which to assess the real environmental impact of a package or object.


The concept of measurability, however, seems more central to the new directive intended to fight greenwashing, which aims to provide measurable parameters and ensure adequate sustainability-related  product information on labels.


The directive, recently approved by the European Parliament with 593 votes in favour, 21 against, and 14 abstentions, focuses on the protection of consumers and their right to be correctly informed. It aims to defend them against misleading sales practices that use sustainability as a marketing ploy, making it harder for buyers to make informed purchases.


A series of marketing strategies deemed misleading have therefore been added to the EU list of prohibited commercial practices as based on what is now known as 'greenwashing', i.e. providing sustainability-related content designed to attract consumers but which either cannot be demonstrated or has no real impact. Another issue the directive aims to combat is the age-old problem of planned obsolescence, which is extremely widespread, particularly in consumer electronics, despite being both dishonest and generating serious environmental impacts.


The new rules imposed by the directive are intended to ensure clearer, more reliable labelling, by banning the use of generic statements such as "environmentally friendly", "animal friendly", "green", "natural", "biodegradable", "climate-neutral" or "eco-", unless such claims are supported by objective data.


Also, at the centre of the attention of European Parliamentarians are the rapidly multiplying sustainability certification marks and the failure to provide comparative data on labels. In the future, only sustainability marks backed by certification systems which have been approved or created by public authorities will be authorised in the EU; this move essentially confirms the need for objective measurement of a product's carbon footprint based on an analysis of the entire value chain.


Finally, the directive outlaws all emissions compensation statements based on participation in offset schemes. These schemes allow manufacturers to include an environmental impact claim on their label as a result of involvement in initiatives managed by third parties whose impact may be neutral, limited, or positive and are neither measurable nor certified.


The next steps in the process now include definitive approval by the Council and subsequent publication in the Official Journal. This will be followed by a 24-month period in which the member states will have time to transpose the new rules into their national law.


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