EU Communications Framework: Everything Marketers Need to Know

For years, marketing campaigns from all sectors have heavily relied on ‘green’ and sustainable claims in order to make goods and services more appealing to a growing environmentally conscious consumer base. However, marketing teams will have to get extra creative if they are to keep up with the upcoming restrictions brought by the new EU Communications Framework.

Since these changes are inevitable, it’s better to get informed and ready now than to be caught off-guard with a marketing strategy that needs to be completely overhauled for lack of compliance. So here’s the breakdown of the main initiatives under the EU Communications Framework to help you tailor your marketing efforts to the demands of Europe’s green future.

Want someone with deep experience and connections in the EU to help guide your sustainability strategy? Get in touch!

What is the EU Communications Framework?

In simple terms, the EU Communications Framework is a collection of legislative initiatives designed to protect European consumers’ interests through increased transparency requirements and to accelerate the block’s green transition by fostering conscious consumption.

Main initiatives under the framework

Although most discussions up until now have revolved around green claims and labelling, European marketers need to be aware that the scope of the transformation planned for commercial communication practices within the EU goes way beyond those subjects.

Some of the initiatives which fall under the EU Communications Framework have already been published a while ago, but some new and very relevant proposals are still underway and expected to be put forward by the end of 2022. Here are the six main initiatives that make up the framework:

  1. Empowering Consumers Directive
    1. Consumer Rights Directive
    2. Unfair Commercial Practices Directive
  2. Green Claims Regulation
  3. Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation
  4. Review of the Textile Labelling Regulation

Understanding the scope of the framework’s initiatives

All the policies designed to reshape the way European marketers communicate with consumers include lengthy explanations about objectives and requirements, which would make reviewing the details of each piece in one single article more confusing than informative. Instead, we decided to offer a summarised overview of each initiative’s scope and encourage marketing teams, with their legal counterparts, to proactively study the deeper aspects of the individual policies later on.

Unfair Commercial Practices Directive

The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive focuses on increasing the protection of consumers against what we have come to know as “greenwashing” and the early obsolescence of goods commercialised in the EU. Published in 2005, this is the earliest piece of legislation included in the framework. However, in December 2021, more than fifteen years later, the EU Commission saw the need to publish a new guidance on how to interpret the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD). It is now considered the reference document for marketing departments, as it highlights all the dos & don’ts on the subject of green claims.

Consumer Rights Directive

Considered a complementary piece to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, the Consumer Rights Directive was adopted in 2011 with the goal of providing consumers with critical information regarding a product before its purchase is finalised. This includes details on the product’s main characteristics, its durability, any reparability terms and after-sales services offered.

Empowering Consumers Directive

Published in March 2022, the Empowering Consumers Directive was created to amend certain aspects of the earlier Consumer Rights and Unfair Commercial Practices (UCPD) policies. The numerous amendments proposed include significant changes under the UCPD: such as ten new banned commercial practices related to product obsolescence and greenwashing, under the Consumer Rights Directive: additional information requirements about commercial guarantee, as well as the introduction of a product repairability score have been introduced.

Green Claims Regulation

As detailed in our earlier piece on the EU Green Claims Regulation, this specific policy consists of complementary initiatives to regulate and standardise green claims. Among other important requirements, it determines that any environmental claim should be supported by evidence of outstanding sustainable practices and standards across the entire value chain, based on a life cycle assessment approach . The legislative proposal is expected to be published by the EU Commission in Q4 2022.

Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation

The Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation is part of the European Commission’s efforts to encourage the adoption of eco-design requirements for products and to restrict industrial use of potentially harmful elements. A point clearly made by the creation of the EU’s Sustainable Chemicals Strategy. In a similar way to the Textile Labelling Regulation, the Ecodesign policy’s contribution to the Communications Framework is the implementation of information requirements that target transparency issues. Its new Digital Product Passport is expected to be a game-changing tool in fostering conscious consumption, making critical information about a product’s environmental sustainability easily accessible for consumers.

Textile Labelling Regulation

The revision of the Textile Labelling Regulation (consultation of this piece of legislation is expected to start in Autumn 2022) is actually one of the key actions under the EU’s Sustainable Textile Strategy. Its relevance to the Communications Framework comes from the transparency requirements in the law which demand clear fibre composition and production information that can support consumers in making more conscious decisions at the time of purchase.

Expected impacts of the EU Communications Framework

As highlighted in our interview with the Sustainable Fashion Academy, history shows that stricter legislation is indeed necessary to drive corporate commitment to more sustainable practices, so we can definitely expect Brussels to continuously raise the policy bar. However, the interesting aspect of the Communications Framework is that, in raising the standards for marketing and sales departments, it should also boost the general population’s commitment to the environmental cause, by making them better informed about the real environmental impacts of their purchases.

From a business perspective, in practical terms, marketers can say goodbye to the appealing jargon regularly added to campaigns in order to convey a conscious and environmentally responsible image. In fact, those very terms ‘conscious’ and ‘responsible’ will be ruled out, as they could be considered vague and misleading.

Businesses can also expect to end up in court for any unsubstantiated use of claims such as ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’, and ‘gentle on the environment’, whether connected to an individual product or to a brand name or campaign. Product claims will now have to be a lot more specific, explaining exactly what feature makes a product better for the environment, and clarifying if such claims apply to the whole product, parts of it or only to its packaging, for example.

How marketers can prepare for the upcoming changes

The Communication Framework’s complete range of requirements will apply to everyone: brands, retailers, and importers, with no exceptions made based on size. Yes, SMEs, that means you too.

That being the case, marketing teams of companies selling within EU’s borders should waste no time in raising awareness and communicating with internal stakeholders about the changes appearing on the horizon. After communicating internally the new expected rules, the first practical step would be to review all online and in-store communication, flagging potential points of concern, followed by a thorough assessment of the company’s marketing and sales strategies. Marketing teams could also compare their existing marketing communications materials against the UCPD guidelines published in December 2021.

Despite these more immediate actions which can be taken to ensure compliance with the latest proposed guidelines, simply making adjustments to a company’s marketing messages will soon not be enough to compete within the block. It’s increasingly clear that the European Commission’s movements are shaping the EU into an environment mainly suited for Circular Business Models, and organisations should prioritise a complete review of their business strategies, if they are to remain competitive in this green near future.

 

 

Want someone with deep experience and connections in the EU to help guide your sustainability strategy? Get in touch!

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