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Greenwashing and credibility: New regulations and first convictions

The first verdicts against greenwashing have already been handed down in Austria, but the EU is about to tighten the rules even further. We have summarized the current situation and what needs to be considered in the future to avoid breaching the new Green Claims Directive.

With the Green Claims Directive, sustainability communication will be subject to even stricter requirements. The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which will come into force at the beginning of 2023, is already forcing many companies to rethink their approach. It also presents new challenges for communications departments and agencies.

According to the CSRD, from 2025 all large companies – i.e. companies with the legal form of a stock corporation (AG) or a limited liability company (GmbH) – with either a turnover of more than 40 million euros or a balance sheet total of more than 20 million euros or more than 250 employees will have to prepare a sustainability report. The preparation and presentation of the data will have to be more comprehensive, standardized and verifiable.

Green Claims Directive tightens regulations

The new GCD regulations will apply to all companies with more than ten employees and an annual turnover of more than two million euros. Violators could face fines of up to four percent of their annual turnover. Four areas will be regulated. Arbitrary eco-labels, i.e. alleged eco and sustainability labels invented by companies, will be banned. General environmental claims such as “environmentally friendly,” “green,” or “ecological” will be banned in advertising; environmental claims about the entire product will no longer be allowed if they refer only to a specific aspect of the product; and advertising with legally required environmental standards will be banned if it gives the impression that the company is a pioneer.

First verdicts in Austria

Following a complaint by the Association for Consumer Information, an Austrian brewery was convicted of spreading false claims, i.e. greenwashing. The brewery had advertised the beer with the claim “brewed CO2-neutral” on its labels. The consequence: all beer bottles must be relabeled and the brewery is no longer allowed to advertise with “CO2-neutral brewed beer”. An association of about 7,000 dairy farmers and 90 dairy farms was also prosecuted. It had claimed in an advertisement that drinking its dairy products contributed to climate protection. Following criticism, the advertisement was withdrawn. There were no further consequences.

Certified sustainability communication experts keep track

The PRVA has developed a training program to help communicators in companies, agencies and organizations keep track of the new EU directives and laws and to meet their special responsibilities. The training program was developed by representatives of the PR industry associations from the DACH region (PRVA, GPRA, LSA) together with climate experts and the international audit organization AgencyExperts. The training focuses on the basics and specialist knowledge of sustainability and climate protection communication


Foto: Büro Ludwina