Green Claims Directive: Verifying Sustainability Claims

Author: Markus Strehlitz

Jul 10, 2024 Sustainability / EU regulations / Environment

Companies need to gather data from a variety of sources to reliably prove that their products are sustainable. For many, such a task presents a challenge. This is where service providers such as DEKRA Assurance Services step in.

Information about the environmental properties of products should be treated with caution. In 2020, a study conducted by the European Commission came to the conclusion that more than half of the environmental claims contain vague, misleading or unfounded information. In other words, many companies engage in so-called greenwashing, trying to win over customers with sustainability claims. What's more, consumers can rarely check the information.
"Environmental claims are omnipresent: from ocean-friendly T-shirts, CO₂-neutral bananas and bee-friendly juices to shipping with 100% CO₂ compensation," says Frans Timmermans, who was responsible for the European Green Deal as Vice-President of the European Commission until August 2023. "Unfortunately, these statements all too often lack any evidence or justification. This opens the door to greenwashing and puts companies that manufacture truly sustainable products at a disadvantage."
To put a stop to this, the EU has adopted a directive on empowering consumers for the green transition and annex, which has been effective since March 26, 2024. Its regulations will have to be implemented by March 27, 2026. They contain stricter requirements for information on the environmental characteristics of products and companies: In future, text claims will only be possible with substantiation, and certain terms such as "green" or "eco" will no longer be permissible. Another new directive - the Green Claims Directive - will complement these regulations. It will contain more specific requirements for the substantiation, verifiability and communication of environmental claims.

Misleading claims also result from a lack of knowledge

For consumers, this is good news. For companies, however, it is a challenge. Understanding the full environmental impact of a product and providing reliable evidence is a complex task. Not only does this require data collected from different systems and departments within the company - which is already challenging enough. This data also needs to be supported by information from external sources. For example, it is not enough to know how much electricity is used to manufacture a product. It is also crucial to know how the electricity is generated that the company uses for production.
False claims about the environmental impact of a product are therefore not necessarily the result of malicious intent, but often caused by a lack of knowledge. "Many companies underestimate the effort required to gather all the relevant data," says Nadine Rötzer, responsible for product sustainability at DEKRA Assurance Services. Companies also often rely on information from the internet that they cannot verify.
Small and medium-sized companies in particular often lack the skills and personnel to handle complex tasks such as tracking material and energy flows along the entire product life cycle. Most of Nadine Rötzer's clients therefore originate from this environment. DEKRA Assurance Services is one of the expert service providers taking on this challenging job for manufacturers.
More specifically, the DEKRA subsidiary supports companies by carrying out Carbon Footprint and Lifecycle Assessment studies for them. Based on product and operating data and with the help of specific, internationally recognized life cycle assessment databases, the specialists determine the environmental impact of products - and also identify potential for improvement.

Looking at the Carbon Footprint

Taking the CO₂ footprint as an example, Nadine Rötzer explains how she and her team operate. "Initially, we consult with the customer to understand their processes. We then identify the data we need - such as electricity and material consumption. It could be information on the precursor products." Using this information, the DEKRA experts create a model that is then linked to so-called emission factors. "This not only involves how the electricity is generated, but also factors the carbon footprint of the materials, metals, chemicals, granulates and so on." This is then used to create the overall CO2 footprint of the product.

ISO standards lead the way

"We follow clear methods and adhere to standards such as ISO 14044 and ISO 14067," Nadine Rötzer explains. "We can also access relevant databases, use special software solutions and have the experience and expertise to evaluate the relevant information." This level of diligence takes time. A study takes around three to six months to complete. Nadine Rötzer recommends repeating such a study every three to five years. After all, factors that influence the life cycle assessment can change over time.
However, DEKRA Assurance Services not only assists in determining the environmental impact of products. The experts also offer to check the results if, for example, a company has drawn up a life cycle assessment itself. "Companies can submit their calculations to us. This is, of course, only possible for studies that we have not conducted ourselves," the expert adds. Generally speaking, it is advisable for every company to get its own calculations checked. "This way, companies can be sure that they have done everything correctly. It also increases external credibility." For comparative statements about competitor products, this is in fact a requirement stipulated by the ISO.