The European Union has presented a package of Green Deal proposals that are likely much more ambitious and will take effect much sooner than many realize. “Outdoor companies better get up to speed, and quickly,” says public affairs consultant Pascale Moreau.
To meet its goals of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and of decoupling economic growth from resource extraction through circularity, EU policy makers are moving quickly ahead with the “European Green Deal.” Why should outdoor companies care?
Much of this legislation is going to matter to any brand – European or otherwise – wishing to sell their products in the EU. And it’s likely going to be more ambitious and happen much sooner than most people may realize. Basically, the EU Green Deal legislation will create several “licenses to operate” that will dramatically change industry across the EU – from tech to fashion to outdoor – with a heavy emphasis on sustainability. So, it’s important for any outdoor company with an interest in the EU to get up to speed, and quickly. If a product does not comply, it won’t sell within the EU.
Among these, what are some of the most significant legislation packages on the way that companies need to know about?
There’s a lot going on, but I’d say there are three big ones outdoor companies need to know about right now: Eco Design, Due Diligence and Green Claims legislation.
With Eco Design legislation, the EU is essentially going to push businesses to design products for circularity. This involves a focus on durability and repairability as well as increased recycled content, recyclability, and reduced chemicals and carbon footprints. On all of these factors, there are some pretty high targets on the way, and products that do not comply will simply not make it to store shelves within the European Union.
Due Diligence legislation will substantially change the relationship companies have with their partners. The idea is essentially to require companies to look further than their supply chain and into their full value chains to identify and implement mitigation measures to both social and environmental risks. Failing to do so opens the company to civilian liability and lawsuits, fines, and remediation. Companies will really need to make sure they have everything in place to avoid this liability.
Finally, Green Claims legislation relates to company communications and aims to eliminate unfounded or unverifiable claims of a product or company’s sustainability qualifications. Some companies will need to completely rethink how they communicate to their customers within the EU, and non-compliance will result in fines and an obligation to pull back the entire infringing messaging campaign from all platforms and products. And they’re not just kidding around – policy makers are really serious about cracking down on greenwashing.
Supply chain traceability and preferred materials uptake efforts within the outdoor industry have become increasingly widespread. Would you say outdoor companies are relatively well prepared for the due diligence and eco product legislation?
I would say that many outdoor brands have already demonstrated high ambition levels with respect to due diligence and can apply similar strategies of supply chain traceability and risk mitigation to their broader value chains without too steep a learning curve.
For eco product legislation, on the other hand, outdoor companies may still have a way to go in order to be ready for implementation. While some brands have demonstrated leadership in certain aspects of their operations and products, this legislation will impact all companies and at multiple levels.
At the strategic level, the way companies define their strategies and targets and how they measure them will need to be changed. For example, many have already set company-wide climate targets. But soon, they’ll be required to have these targets at the product level – a significantly more complicated step.
Then there’s also the design phase, where in addition to ensuring substances of concern like PFAs are not in the products, additional steps to ensure recyclability, durability and repairability will be required by legislation.
Finally, a focus on limiting synthetic microfiber shedding and ensuring recyclability will have vast consequences for producers of many performance outdoor products currently on the market. This is really going to be a game changer.
For several years now, outdoor industry communication has rallied around sustainability as a primary trend and key product USP. How do you think outdoor companies will fair with the Green Claims legislation?
Here I suspect that there might be some trouble. For better or worse, sustainability has become THE biggest buzzword in the outdoor sector. Once this legislation comes into effect, I think we’ll notice a very different type of language.
The details haven’t been worked out yet of course, but the strongest indication of what kind of claims the legislation will allow can be found in the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive guidelines. These are currently not mandatory, but brands wanting to get ahead of the game can begin working towards compliance using these guidelines.
To summarize, companies basically need to look into all their communications: websites, brochures, social media, labels, signage in shops and ensure that the wording is not misleading or too generic. Words like “sustainable,” “responsible,” “eco-friendly” etc. are therefore not recommended.
If you do use a claim, it needs to be substantiated right next to the claim. This substantiation will likely have to be based on the EU’s LCA methodology based on 16 impact categories. A tool is being developed for this purpose and will be ready by 2024.
In short, just claiming “responsible” without an explanation and the attributes of that product – that’s just not going to be good enough anymore.”
With draft legislation scheduled to be ready for review in the first half of 2022, final legislation by 2024 and implementation by 2026, what should those in the Outdoor industry be doing right now?
Some might suggest that these legislation packages will get watered down once EU member states begin making demands. But I think the opposite might be true: the parliament is very active on this subject, and I believe they may even go further than the commission’s recommendations in the final legislation.
That said, it’s important to emphasize that this legislation is most likely coming whether companies are ready or not. Any company – European or otherwise – with significant sales in Europe should therefore begin aligning with the impending 2026 implementation of the EU legislation if they haven’t already done so.
At the same time, outdoor companies can – and should – still make themselves heard during the review process to help ensure the final legislation takes their viewpoints into account. Individual brands won’t get far alone, however, and are better off instead going through industry organizations. The European Outdoor Group (EOG) and Federation of the European Sporting goods Industry (FESI), for example, are doing an amazing job and have a lot of influence when they communicate the perspectives of their members to policy makers.
So, the best thing is to approach such an industry organization and try to add your company’s voice to the collective leverage of all its members. By and large, I’d suggest that these legislation packages may be good news for outdoor brands that already have been taking environmental and social sustainability seriously – they’ll be far ahead of the competition – and a necessary jumpstart for all companies to begin the transition towards a sustainable business model.
Photos: Pascale Moreau