In an Op-Ed for Apparel Insider, Dalena White, a spokesperson for Make the Label Count (MTLC) responds to the recent announcement of the EU’s Green Claims Directive.
LONDON – We all know the fashion industry is awash with greenwashing. The need to regulate the sustainability claims that brands make has never been more apparent.
That’s what the European Commission is aiming to do with its highly anticipated Green Claims Directive published recently, aiming to tackle greenwashing from brands so that consumers can make informed responsible purchasing decisions. Under the proposed Directive, the Commission is cracking down on green (environmental) claims made by brands, requiring that they meet specific requirements on how they substantiate them and how they communicate about them.
This is a big step in the right direction, particularly for the fashion industry where greenwashing is rife. In a study of clothing and textile webpages, the Commission found that more than 50 per cent of green claims were vague, misleading, or unfounded, and 40 per cent were completely unsubstantiated. By regulating these claims, it is hoped that consumers will have ‘more clarity and stronger reassurance that when something is sold as green, it actually is green’.
The most notable change, compared to what the European Commission originally considered putting forward, is that the European Commission decided not to pursue the product environmental footprint (PEF) or any other single standard methodology to substantiate claims, acknowledging the shortcomings of the PEF method for fashion and textiles in that they do not yet cover all relevant impact categories, such as microplastics. In other words, the current PEF methodology is not fit for purpose.
The exclusion of PEF is a significant decision and a clear indication of how difficult it is to get this right. We’re pleased to see the European Commission has acknowledged that it’s better to opt for a more flexible approach rather than pursue an incomplete methodology that would stand to license greenwashing. We welcome the objective of the Commission to stop the proliferation of unregulated claims and labels through a single verification and certification mechanism that will also make enforcement more effective.
If the PEF had been used in its current form to underpin the Directive, it would have risked licensing greenwashing. The Commission first started the PEF nearly ten years ago and since then we’ve seen major advancements in research and knowledge around the environmental impacts of the textile industry, which is not yet reflected in the PEF methodology. Make the Label Count remains committed to shedding light on the limitations of the current PEF methodology regarding textiles, and importantly to providing solutions for its improvement. In its current form, PEF omits the consideration of crucial impacts – which could be rectified by including indicators for microplastic release, plastic waste generation and circularity of materials. These impacts are the driving force behind the fashion industry’s huge environmental impact.
Though the PEF methodology is far from perfect, we believe it can be improved and we remain fully committed to working with lawmakers to ensure the final law is consistent with the objectives set by the EU environmental policy and the transition to a circular economy.
In terms of limitations of the Directive, we believe that a single harmonized framework to deliver EU consumers meaningful information on the sustainability of their purchasing choices will be crucial in the long run to deliver EU climate goals. But PEF in its current form is not it.
It can only be a good thing that retailers must be more cautious and base their claims on scientific findings rather than marketing jargon. The era of vague claims and shaky data is over. It’s time to clean house.