By Daniel Silva (Master’s student in EU Law, UMinho)
The fight against greenwashing in the EU
In January of 2021, the European Commission and national consumer authorities shared their conclusions pursuant to a screening of websites performed to identify breaches of EU consumer law in online markets focused on greenwashing practices. This screening included a variety of online green claims from a wide range of business sectors, including cosmetics, clothing, and household equipment. The results estimated that 42% of analyzed claims were exaggerated, false or deceptive and could even potentially be considered unfair commercial practices under EU law. The sweep also concluded that the practice of greenwashing has been growing as consumers demand in green products also grows.
The term greenwashing was coined by the American environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, at the time regarding the practice of the hotel industry incentivizing the reuse of towels for environmental reasons, when in fact it was a ploy meant to increase their margin of profit. The EU defines greenwashing as “companies giving a false impression of their environmental impact or benefits”. This, however, does not seem to encompass the magnitude and many facets that greenwashing has. There is not a unanimous agreement on a precise definition of the term, however, most definitions agree on two aspects about greenwashing: there is repression on information that suggests the company might be environmentally unfriendly and a strong push on having an environmentally friendly image. Hence, we can see greenwashing as a phenomenon of selective information disclosure on the environmental impact of a certain product or service that does not necessarily correspond to reality or is even false. We can look at greenwashing as somewhat of a marketing strategy, capitalizing on the growing consumer environmental conscience that has been on the rise in recent years. Therefore, the companies that practice greenwashing do not actually have any real environmental concern, focusing purely on economic gain.
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