France: New version of the French practical guide on environmental claims

The long awaited updated version of the practical guide to environmental claims has been published by the DGCCRF (General Department of Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control - the French administrative authority competent for the environmental information obligation and green claims).

The updated guide is divided into two parts.

The first part describes the applicable legal framework, which has evolved considerably in recent years. Indeed, the AGEC law (on the fight against waste and for a circular economy) of 10 February 2020 has strengthened environmental information for consumers and strictly framed, or even prohibited, the use of certain environmental claims. It has also introduced measures regarding consumer information (information on environmental qualities and characteristics of waste-generating products, reparability index/sustainability index, information on endocrine disruptors, generalisation of the sorting instructions, prohibition of the use of mineral oil on packaging, etc).

The second part of the updated guide is more practical and covers the voluntary use of various environmental claims by professionals. Indeed, information regarding the way each environmental claims should be used is provided in detail.

The recommendations are divided into two sections, depending on whether they concern product claims (such as "substance x-free", organic, sustainable, eco-designed, etc.) or company claims (environmental claims qualifying a company and offsetting operations for example: "one product purchased = one tree planted").

Prohibition of terms “environmentally friendly" and its equivalent

AGEC law introduced different measures pertaining to the information of the consumer including a prohibition to use the terms “biodegradable", "environmentally friendly" or any other equivalent terms on a product or packaging. The guide now provides a non-exhaustive list of such equivalent terms, notably:

- eco-responsible

- bio-responsible; bio-compatible;

- respectful of nature; respectful of the planet;

- favorable to the environment;

- good for the environment; good for the climate; good for the planet;

- ecological;

- green;

- friend of nature.

The list gives an indication of the terms or association of terms that might be prohibited. Yet, the level of interpretation remains uncertain and will eventually be determined by case law and prosecution policies of the controlling entities.

It is interesting to note that the DGCCRF recently published a report on its first major investigation of greenwashing practices regarding non-food products and services (including textile products). The DGCCRF indicates that the reported anomalies include green claims that were global, unjustified, imprecise, ambiguous or even contrary to legal provisions such as “products more respectful of the planet” "environmentally friendly", "ecological" or "eco-responsible”. Numerous follow-up actions were taken and the DGCCRF underlines that it remains fully committed to the fight against greenwashing and plans on increasing its controls.

In this context, producers must remain vigilant to avoid any risks until further clarification regarding the approach French authorities will adopt is available.

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