As part of a wider package of measures on sustainability, the European Commission has published a proposed Directive to “update the EU consumer rules to empower consumers for the green transition”. The new Directive aims to ensure that consumers can take informed and environmentally-friendly choices when making purchases.

In summary, consumers will have a right to know how long a product is designed to last for and how, if at all, it can be repaired. In addition, the rules aim to strengthen consumer protection against untrustworthy or false environmental claims, banning ‘greenwashing' and practices misleading consumers about the durability of a product.

A new right for information on the durability and reparability of products

The Commission is proposing to amend the Consumer Rights Directive to require traders to provide consumers with the following information:

Durability: Consumers must be informed about the guaranteed durability of products. If the producer of a consumer good offers a commercial guarantee of durability of more than two years, the seller must provide this information to the consumer. For energy-using goods, the seller must also inform consumers when no information on a commercial guarantee of durability was provided by the producer.

Repairs and updates: The seller must also provide relevant information about repairs, such as the reparability score (where applicable), or other relevant repair information made available by the producer, such as the availability of spare parts or a repair manual. For smart devices and digital content and services, the consumer must be also informed about software updates provided by the producer.

Producers and sellers may decide on the most appropriate way to provide this information to the consumer, for example, on the packaging or in the product description on the website. However, it must be provided before the purchase and in a clear and comprehensible manner. 

A ban on greenwashing and planned obsolescence

The Commission is also proposing several amendments to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD). It will expand the list of product characteristics about which a trader cannot mislead consumers to cover the environmental or social impact, as well as the durability and reparability. It will also add new practices that are considered misleading after a case-by-case assessment, such as making an environmental claim related to future environmental performance without clear, objective and verifiable commitments and targets, and without an independent monitoring system.

Finally, it will amend the UCPD by adding new practices to the existing list of prohibited unfair commercial practices, the so-called ‘black list'. The new practices will include, among others:

  • Not informing consumers about features introduced to limit durability, for example, software which stops or downgrades the functionality of the product after a particular period of time;
  • Making generic, vague environmental claims where the excellent environmental performance of the product or trader cannot be demonstrated. Examples of such generic environmental claims are ‘environmentally friendly', ‘eco' or ‘green', which wrongly suggest or create the impression of excellent environmental performance;
  • Making an environmental claim about the entire product, when it really concerns only a certain aspect of the product;
  • Displaying a voluntary sustainability label which was not based on a third-party verification scheme or established by public authorities;
  • Not informing consumers that a product has limited functionality when using consumables, spare parts or accessories not provided by the original producer.

These amendments aim at ensuring legal certainty for traders but also at facilitating enforcement of cases related to greenwashing and early obsolescence of products. Furthermore, by ensuring that environmental claims are fair, consumers will be able to choose products that are genuinely better for the environment than their competitors. The Commission says that it will encourage competition towards more environmentally sustainable products, thus reducing negative effects on the environment.

Next steps

The Commission's proposals will now be discussed by the Council and the European Parliament. Once adopted and transposed into the Member States' national legislation, consumers will be entitled to remedies if there are breaches, including through the collective redress procedure under the Representative Actions Directive.

UK position

The proposal follows the CMA’s recent advice to the UK government about environmental sustainability and consumer protection, in which it suggested adding misleading and unsubstantiated green claims to the list of banned practices under Schedule 1 to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. It also suggested creating freestanding legislation to prohibit misleading and unsubstantiated green claims and practices such as the sale of products using misleading environmental claims or which become prematurely obsolete. The CMA also set out some changes which BEIS may wish to consider in future, such as expressly prohibiting planned premature obsolescence; and broadening of the ‘right to repair’ under the Ecodesign for Energy-Related Products and Energy Information Regulations 2021 to include other categories of product