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  • Writer's pictureMargarida Lindo

Environmental Claims in Cosmetics

In a world increasingly attuned to the environmental impact of our choices, it's no surprise that the beauty industry is undergoing a major green makeover. Cosmetic products now proudly display a range of environmental claims that promise everything from animal-friendly formulations to sustainable packaging. But are all these claims correct?

Environmental claims for cosmetic products must follow the same requirements as all other cosmetic claims, must be correctly justified, and comply with the common criteria of the Regulation (EU) nº 655/2013. Such claims shall not imply an environmental benefit that the product does not have, nor exaggerate the environmental benefit of the product.

Most of the environmental claims are vague and should be avoided as the consumer won’t correctly understand their truthful meaning. One word of caution - not all claims are created equal, and not every brand lives up to its promises. Greenwashing, where companies exaggerate their eco-friendly efforts, is a real issue. It is very important to avoid ambiguity and to present a clear and specific meaning.

Some examples of these claims are:

  • ‘ocean-friendly’

  • ‘environmentally friendly’

  • ‘biodegradable packaging’ and ‘biodegradable formula’

  • ‘microplastics free’

  • ‘clean beauty’

  • ‘free from palm oil’

The EU Commission defines environmental claims or green claims as claims suggesting, or otherwise creating, the impression that a product is environmentally‐friendly, or is less damaging to the environment than other such products.

On March 22, the European Commission published a proposal for legislation on sustainability claims. The main aim of this text is to establish common criteria for greenwashing and misleading environmental claims. Before companies communicate any of the types of "green claims" to consumers, such claims will have to be independently verified and substantiated with scientific evidence. Several rules will be put in place to ensure that claims are communicated clearly. For example, claims or labels that use the aggregate score of the product's overall environmental impact will no longer be allowed unless rules are established in the EU.

On May 31, 2023, the European Union transmitted to the WTO its proposal for a directive on the substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims (known as the Green Claims Directive). Its aim is to protect consumers and companies by preventing greenwashing practices. This proposal for a directive concerns voluntary environmental claims in commercial communications between businesses and consumers. It establishes requirements for the substantiation and communication of voluntary environmental claims and labels for goods, services, and organizations.

On September 2023 Parliament and the Council reached a provisional agreement on new rules to ban misleading advertising and provide consumers with better information about products. The agreement updates the current EU list of prohibited commercial practices and adds to it several problematic marketing habits related to greenwashing and the early obsolescence of products. The two European bodies agreed to ban, among other things: generic environmental claims, such as "environmentally friendly", "natural", "biodegradable", "climate neutral" or "eco", without proof of recognized excellent environmental performance relevant to the claim.

Finally, on 28 February 2024, Directive (EU) 2024/825 of the European Parliament and of the Council was published, amending Directives 2005/29/EC and 2011/83/EU with regard to empowering consumers for the ecological transition through better protection against unfair practices and through better information. The aim of the new directive is to empower consumers for the ecological transition so that they can make informed purchasing decisions and play an active role in the ecological transition. To this end, the directive establishes rules to combat "greenwashing".

Remember that the rules governing these claims can vary by country and region. It's important to stay informed about the regulations in your area so you can make eco-conscious choices confidently. Environmental claims on cosmetic products aren't just buzzwords; they're a reflection of the collective push towards sustainability.

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