New European laws set to be introduced in 2026 aim to prevent companies from making unsubstantiated environmental claims, such as ‘carbon neutral’.
The EU Parliament and Council announced last week that they had reached a provisional agreement on the new rules, which aim to empower consumers to make more sustainable purchasing choices and prevent misleading ‘greenwashing’ claims from businesses.
Under the new legislation, businesses will not be allowed to use generic environmental claims, such as ‘environmentally friendly,’ ‘climate neutral’ or ‘biodegradable’ without providing proof of relevant “recognised excellent environmental performance”.
This will include claims based on emissions offsetting schemes that a product has a ‘neutral,’ ‘reduced’ or ‘positive’ effect on the environment.
Carbon offsetting – whereby businesses aim to remove CO2 from the atmosphere through participating in practices such as reforestation projects – has increasingly been used by companies within the food and beverage industry and beyond in efforts to compensate for their emissions.
However, the practice has come under more scrutiny in recent years. The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) has described offsetting schemes as “controversial,” pointing out that these schemes offer “no guarantee for locking in carbon for the future” and can often be the cheaper option for companies, deterring them from taking more ambitious (and costly) measures to reduce emissions within their own operations.
BEUC deputy director general, Ursula Pachl, commented: “Consumers end up lost in a jungle of green claims with no clue about which ones are trustworthy. Thankfully, the new rules are putting some order in the green claims’ chaos.”
Pachl described the proposed ban on carbon-neutral claims as “great news”, adding that there is “no such thing” as a carbon-neutral food product, such as cheese, or packaging such as plastic bottles.
“Carbon neutral claims are greenwashing, plain and simple,” she said. “It’s a smoke screen giving the impression companies are taking serious action on their climate impact.”
A number of businesses within the food and beverage industry have announced that their products achieved ‘carbon neutral’ status this year.
UK-based dairy company Wyke Farms announced that it had launched “the world’s first carbon neutral butter” into its Ivy’s Reserve range in May, produced in its new £10 million renewable energy-powered facility.
The company worked in partnership with the Carbon Trust to undertake a ‘cradle-to-grave’ footprint analysis in order to certify the product as carbon neutral, in accordance with the PAS 2060 carbon neutrality specification.
A spokesperson for the Carbon Trust told FoodBev that it supports changes being made to ensure that green claims are based on “accurate methodologies that consumers can trust”.
“At the beginning of September, we announced updates to our product carbon labelling services which follow rigorous standards, in line with international best practice, and we support changes in regulation to ensure all climate claims receive a similar level of scrutiny,” the Carbon Trust’s spokesperson commented. “We believe many businesses are ready to provide this, and consumers are increasingly expecting it.”
When approached by FoodBev for comment, Wyke Farms said that its brand messaging on pack would evolve in line with legal requirements, and that it was in the process of reviewing the Carbon Trust’s updates to its carbon labelling standards. The company spokeserson commented: “Wyke Farms are committed to producing dairy products in a net positive way which for us includes a full carbon management plan. As one of the largest independent generators of green electric and gas in the UK we are well positioned to become the first carbon neutral dairy company in the UK using our own self-generated offsets and insets”.
They added: “In time, all dairy products will need to be carbon neutral and the effort that we put in just becomes part of the job and accepted as the norm. As the standard changes, we expect our self-generated offsets and insets to be allowed into the calculation, negating the need to buy overseas credits, which allows more investment into farm environmental projects here in the UK.“
Elsewhere, confectionery giant Mars announced that it had achieved carbon neutral certification on all of its Mars bars sold in the UK, Ireland and Canada this year, certified by SCS Global. The company said this had been achieved through a combination of offsetting and actual emissions reduction. FoodBev has reached out to Mars for comment on the proposed new rules.
In order to become law, the EU Parliament and Council will need to give the official green light to the provisional deal, with a vote by MEPs expected to take place in November. Member states will then have 24 months to incorporate the new rules into their law.
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