Companies in Estonia that boast about their green credentials will soon have to prove them as the Ministry of Climate wants to introduce EU checks on labels and adverts. Details still need to be clarified.
At the moment, if a company advertises itself or its products as environmentally friendly or climate neutral, it can use a marker from the European Commission.
This gives the impression to the consumer that it is less harmful to the environment than other products or services.
"This can be text, an image, a different graphic or symbolic representation," said Kristi Loit, advisor to the Ministry of Climate's Green Reform Department.
This can include different labels, trademarks, trade names or product names, she added.
Under the new Green Claims Directive proposed by the Commission, all these claims needed to be backed up by proof. It would be up to member states to enforce and Estonia has started to think about its system.
"In Estonia, our vision is that environmental claims can be verified by a verifier accredited by the Estonian Accreditation Center," Loit explained.
This would hand more work to auditors working in the private sector. "Those currently auditing greenhouse gas issues and other environmental issues," the advisor said.
In Estonia, environmental issues are supervised by the Environment Agency, and the Consumer Protection and Technical Supervision Agency (TTJA) monitor compliance with the Advertising Act.
Loit suggests that TTJA could also start checking the evidence.
"The TTJA would check whether the claim is substantiated and whether the documentation is correct. And if the TTJA lacks competence or knowledge, it can always call in experts in its field, either from the Environment Agency or from any other relevant body where it needs to do so," she said.
One of the most complicated debates around the new directive is what is and is not a green claim.
For example, a statement that says "The production of this cookie is 100 percent climate neutral" can be measured and evaluated by examining the production process. But where do statements such as "This cookie is environmentally friendly" or "This cookie is good for the environment" fall? How can these statements be proved or disproved?
"Today, there is no specific solution under the directive. But it is certainly something that we will draw attention to during the negotiations. It is important to clarify what an environmental claim is, and where the line is drawn. So that it is also easy for us to check and monitor this later among our own companies," said Loit.
It is easier to verify statements that refer to specific facts, she agreed but added the directive should be broader.
"If I put an explicit influencing phrase on my product or service, it will actually influence the consumer. And the main purpose of the Green Claims Directive is to ensure clarity for the consumer on the environmental claims of a product," said Loit.
The measure will not be introduced shortly as discussions are only just beginning. Member states are starting to submit their evaluations and it will take several months to form a common position. Once the draft is adopted, it will take around two years for countries to adopt it, and another two-three for entrepreneurs to slowly adopt the new procedures.
"To ensure that products already on the market and their packaging are not destroyed due to unverified environmental defects. And that businesses and verifiers have as long as possible to prepare for the transition," said Loit.
Editor: Mari Peegel, Helen Wright