Green Claims Directive: enforce sustainable development by industry standards

Hans Buitelaar
Monday, 29 April 2024

“Demonstrate your achievements for environmental protection or get sued.” This sounds quite aggressive, but reality shows that efforts towards environmentally friendly production and product development are taken from the ‘best practises’ valuation into the demands of legal obligation. How can the recreational boating industry demonstrate its value in this changed reality?

The Green Claims Directive that was adopted by the European Parliament in March this year is one of the recent examples showing that matters of sustainable development are perceived as too serious to be tampered with in marketing campaigns and advertising. 

Any claim of a manufacturer or retailer that they offer a product or service that is presented as ‘environmentally friendly’, should be verified by independent studies that confirm this claim. False claims will be fined. Customers who experience that a product does not fulfil the environmental claims as presented in the advertisements or brochure, may ask their money back. 

The Directive does not necessarily imply that all products need to be zero emission, just that a manufacturer can advertise or claim otherwise that their products help to reduce emissions only if this has been demonstrated by independent trials. The Green Claims Directive is certainly not exclusive for recreational boating, yet the rule impacts this sector like all others.

Consumer protection

“We want to protect customers from false claims and stop greenwashing,” says Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries of the European Commission. “We want to help consumers become more confident about their choices and ensure that those companies that make genuine efforts to reduce their impacts on nature, resource use, climate emissions or pollution are rewarded.”


The marine industry is going through a process of finding the best ways to minimise the possible negative impact of recreational boating on the earth’s ecosystem. Countless inventions and innovations have been presented to improve efficiency and reduce emissions.

The ICOMIA report ‘Pathways to Propulsion Decarbonisation’ presented last November at METSTRADE shows the best way towards emissions minimalization of the existing fleet of pleasure craft worldwide. European conferences seek solutions for the problem of end-of-life boats that the industry has inherited from previous generations of boat builders. Industry associations take an active role here.

Many yards are investigating the use of renewable and bio-based materials for boat construction. Solar panels, wind turbines and water flow generators are installed to produce electricity for domestic functions and contribute to yacht propulsion. Zero emission yachts are navigating the waters. A number of viable solutions have been developed. Sailing yachts, motor yachts, daysailers, fishing boats, dinghies, charter yachts and other items from this sector all have different user profiles.

A single solution that offers the very best harmony with the natural surroundings of the boat’s operating area and causes the least pollution during production and use is impossible for all of these different types. Best practises are researched and found.

Industry initiative

As harsh as the Green Claims Directive might appear, the legislation that is currently adopted by European Parliament needs to be translated into practical regulations, which should be adopted in the member states as laws.

Early 2024, the Directive is merely a framework that outlines the purpose of rules that are to be made. The marine industry can take the initiative to construct the instruments that verify the validity of environmental claims. The sector is actively searching for the best routes towards more sustainability for each of the multitude of vessel types.

Industry involvement seems the best way to secure that legislation about sustainable development will make recreational craft more sustainable in real life, as opposed to complying to general rules that are not based on the reality of boat and yacht construction and operation.

Court rulings

The trend towards juridification of environmental issues is clearly manifesting. Climate activists and NGOs with an agenda of protecting the natural environment demonstrate the righteousness of their goals by starting law suits against polluters. They often win court cases, where judges evaluate the legal state of international agreements and assess if states or companies show enough effort in reducing harmful emissions into the natural environment.

Basic rights

Last month, a group of older citizens won a lawsuit before the European Court of Human Rights against the State of Switzerland. The court affirmed the claim that this state had failed to fight climate change hard enough, and as a consequence elderly people were suffering from heat waves in ever warmer summers.

Some years before this, Dutch environmental activists issued a court claim against the State of The Netherlands, urging to live up to the international agreements to cut emissions. The activist NGO by the name of Urgenda, won the case in the Dutch Supreme Court in 2019 after a process that took seven years. Urgenda went back to the judge in 2021 to demand that the Dutch government will enforce the ruling.

Also in The Netherlands, NGO Milieudefensie filed a lawsuit against Royal Shell Oil to demand this company lives up to its claims that they are participating in the energy transition. The NGO practically demands the oil major to totally stop the production of fossil fuels. In the Switzerland ruling, judges demonstrated how protection against the consequences of climate change is seen as a basic human right and how nations have the obligation to provide such protection – or do whatever is in their might to try this.

Regardless of anyone’s personal views on climate change or the need for protection of the world’s ecosystem, this issue has become a juridical matter and judges show that in their interpretation, international law obliges nations and companies to live up to the goals of protecting nature and cutting emissions.

Legal obligation

As a consequence, launching products that cause less pollution, introducing sustainable production methods or achieving zero pollution are no longer considered as ‘best practices’ that provide good public relations, these actions are merely a legal obligation.

Market benefits

Clearly, lawmakers in the EU and in member states will not agree with forceless checks for environmental claims in the marine industry. The Green Claims Directive, in line with the trend of increasing law enforcement towards sustainable manufacturing, intends to further stimulate true sustainable development by demanding validation of the green ambitions.

In line with this objective, yards, suppliers, marinas and designers can work with industry associations to develop a methodology of checks and balances that will reveal the true environmental gain of green innovations and be of benefit for the industry as an accelerator of sustainable development.

Market benefits for the real green innovators, as intended by the European Committee, can reflect on the sector that shows deep involvement in formulating the regulations. ICOMIA and EBI need to be a step ahead of the EU lawmakers and show the way towards purposeful sustainable development.