Most of us have, undoubtedly, come across a number of environmental claims and labels plastered all over advertisements, websites and product packaging. Carbon neutral, eco-friendly, green, ecological, bio-based, biodegradable, compostable... Hundreds upon hundreds of adjectives! But do they actually mean anything?

The EU wishes to bring order to the Wild West of environmental claims, while also reining in greenwashing and consumer misdirection. The aim of the recently published Green Claims Directive is to ensure that environmental claims are based on actual environmental impacts. This is a laudable objective. However, it is important to continue developing methods to calculate the life-cycle environmental impacts of products.

The Green Claims Directive directs companies to use scientific methodologies to assess the life-cycle environmental impacts of products. The Directive encourages the use of Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) methodology. The PEF takes into consideration a total of 16 different environmental impact categories and is a more standardised method than the traditional Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). The forest industry has been at the forefront in developing the PEF methodology for fibre products (including paperboards, tissues, printing papers) and more development work is underway. However, as it stands now, the PEF methodology does not take into account factors such as the end-use of products or the recyclability of fibre materials. Thus, more work remains to be done. The Commission’s objective is to ensure that, in the future, consumers will be able to base their purchase decisions between similar products on which of the products is the better choice overall for the environment and climate.

The range of ecolabels has expanded to such a degree that a critical evaluation is in order. The Directive implies that the use of the EU’s type 1 ecolabels (such as the EU Ecolabel) would be allowed along with certain certified labels. There already exists a variety of established and purposeful labels that reliably reflect the sustainability of products. These labels encourage consumers to make responsible purchase decisions, and they include the certificates of origin FSC and PEFC as well as environmental product declarations (EPD) that are also used by the forest industry.

Consumers should be given green guidance instead of being misled, and that is why it is important to base environmental claims and labels on effective methodologies and comparable data. It is vital to develop methodologies based on scientific information to provide consumers with the practical tools they need when making green decisions. The forest industry has excellent conditions for substantiating the sustainability of wood-based products, and these conditions can persist in the future as well, provided that new legislation does not undermine them.