A risk of “greenwashing” by competition authorities?

Sustainability as a coverage priority

It is no news that sustainability is an critical subject matter of competition coverage across the EU. There is clear consensus that opposition law enforcement should really be very careful not to hinder cooperation in between organizations, even rivals, that facilitates the realisation of or progress in the direction of reaching sustainability goals of local climate plan (or beyond). However, the extent to which Post 101(3) TFEU can be applied as a authorized foundation for exempting restrictive sustainability agreements involving opponents from the cartel prohibition proceeds to be a hotly debated matter amongst the European Fee and the national opposition authorities inside of the European Competitors Network.

Nonetheless, with the push for companies (and public determination-makers) to make true progress in the direction of reaching sustainability aims will come a danger of ‘greenwashing’. Greenwashing is the phenomenon of providers supplying a bogus impact of their environmental impression or benefits of their goods or carry out (like exaggerating the benefits or distorting the details). Greenwashing can consist of unsubstantiated promises or deceptive information. Consumer authorities alert in opposition to greenwashing and set the topic high on their agenda. For case in point, the Dutch Authority for People and Marketplaces, the ACM, released Pointers for sustainability claims and launched an investigation on sustainability claims in the energy, apparel and dairy sectors), resulting in commitments from vendors H&M and Decathlon to adapt their sustainability promises to avoid misleading statements.


Opposition legislation framework

Competitiveness authorities are also pushed to aid corporate initiatives – often involving agreements or coordinated perform in between competitors – that contribute to additional sustainable procedures of creation or distribution and thus to reaching sustainability aims.  Both the European Fee and nationwide opposition authorities are checking out prospects of delivering guidance to organizations on how to get over levels of competition legislation barriers relating to cooperation with the purpose of reaching sustainability targets. This advancement can only be strongly inspired as levels of competition regulation ought to not (be perceived to) stand in the way of legitimate sustainability initiatives involving undertakings (see also our outlook articles for 2021 and 2022).

The Dutch ACM, which enforces both of those buyer legislation and levels of competition law in The Netherlands, is a person of the primary levels of competition authorities in the EU pushing for a a lot more adaptable or lenient approach to the software of Write-up 101(3) TFEU in its draft Guidelines on sustainability agreements (see also our website right here) [1]. The ACM is also foremost when it will come to encouraging and providing steering on sustainability cooperation in relation to competitors law (see also our blog below and right here).

In September 2021 the European Fee revealed a coverage quick Competitiveness Coverage in Guidance of Europe’s Eco-friendly Ambition in which it talked about the position of competition regulation in relation to sustainability, followed by its draft revised Horizontal Recommendations in March 2022 with a full Chapter (9) devoted to the application of Article 101 TFEU to sustainability agreements. Though the Commission does not go as much in the software of Write-up 101(3) TFEU as the ACM is advocating (see also our blog site right here), it explicitly makes an attempt to facilitate cooperation with sustainability targets under its have interpretation of Report 101(3) TFEU.


‘Greenwashing’ by authorities?

There looks to be a slight threat, on the other hand, that the keen attempts of level of competition authorities like the ACM to facilitate sustainability initiatives of businesses may perhaps guide them to “greenwash” initiatives that do not strictly will need a additional lenient ‘competition legislation sustainability assessment’ in purchase to be in compliance with or even out of scope of competitiveness legislation.

This danger just lately manifested alone in the ACM’s informal assistance about 3 sustainability cooperation initiatives [2]. For, when the ACM bases its assessment of these initiatives on its Recommendations on sustainability agreements, it appears to be that these initiatives could in all probability also have been decided on working with the ‘classical’ level of competition legislation framework. Just one may well even query if these initiatives – regardless the justified exemption less than Short article 101 TFEU – can definitely make a distinction in conditions of reaching sustainability targets and thus justify making use of the Guidelines’ framework.

On the basis of ACM’s publication on the issues (but devoid of realizing the particulars), we are unable to assistance but speculate whether or not reference to the Pointers on sustainability agreements was demanded to assess the exemption for these types of cooperation underneath Posting 101 TFEU.


The 1st casual impression incorporates an evaluation of a collaboration concerning Shell and TotalEnergies for a joint initiative to store CO2 in empty fuel fields in the North Sea, so-referred to as CCS expert services (carbon capture and storage). The agreements that had been made issue 20% of the ability of the pipeline to be produced. The informal belief does not point out that the requesting functions appealed to the Tips, but the ACM applies them anyway.

We speculate if this ‘special treatment’ beneath the Guidelines was vital in view of the point that an exemption less than 101(3) TFEU appears to be a probable end result: a new market place is developed, probable limitations of opposition appear rather restricted and the positive aspects (efficiencies of the cooperation and the good share for customers) look obvious. Based mostly on the issues relating the ‘indispensability’ criterion it is even uncertain if possibly occasion could independently have set up the CCS infrastructure. Contrary to ACM’s former (pre-sustainability emphasis) destructive evaluation of the coal plant closure in 2013, the current evaluation does not incorporate any quantification of prospective price increases for consumers nor of any alleged efficiencies.


The 2nd evaluation is not posted as an informal opinion, but only in a push release on ACM’s internet site. In this press launch, the ACM can take a favourable stance about cooperation concerning numerous smooth consume suppliers, such as Coca-Cola. These suppliers initiated to abolish the plastic manage that will come on multipacks of comfortable beverages and water bottles. The ACM states that it thinks that levels of competition is not restricted by the arrangement and that the agreement therefore falls inside of the scope of Chapter 4 of its Pointers on sustainability agreements (‘Sustainability agreements without having limits of competition’).

We question on the other hand no matter whether an initiative of omitting the plastic handles is in actuality a sustainable one particular – or at the very least whether or not it will definitely make a distinction in achieving the sustainability aims, supplied that the remaining packaging and the bottles by themselves continue to consist of plastic and the importance (and consequently environmental influence) of removing the handles appears rather confined. Also, a single would think that using considerably less packaging elements signifies a price tag saving that helps make an settlement on the subject matter potentially not indispensable. Additionally, we feel that in the pre-sustainability focus the ACM in all probability would not have provided informal assistance on this variety of cooperation but would have referred the initiators to the self-assessment.


In a third casual belief relating to a proposed agreement to lessen the use of unlawful crop defense products and solutions, the ACM concludes that the arrangement, nevertheless contributing to sustainability and greater functioning of the Dutch floriculture market, is not restrictive of competition (i.e. outdoors the scope of Write-up 101 TFEU). The goal of the agreement is to prevent ‘below legal normal competition’ and far more notably to combat trade in unlawful plant defense merchandise and biocides.

Also, in this circumstance, it appears that the arrangement – though likely contributing to sustainability targets – could seriously have been cleared beneath Write-up 101 TFEU on the foundation of self-evaluation by the requesting affiliation and with out reference to the Guidelines.


Concluding remarks

In our feeling, these examples mirror that authorities must be aware of irrespective of whether the ‘sustainability opposition legislation angle’ is ideal and expected for the evaluation of any type of cooperation that contributes to reaching sustainability ambitions. At the exact time, we uncover that a little bit of “greenwashing” by the authorities can be absolved in order to build more legal ‘comfort’ on discussing sustainability initiatives and to stimulate cooperation among rivals that – specifically if not restrictive of level of competition – contributes to reaching sustainability ambitions.

Levels of competition law does not have to and need to not stand in the way of discussing sustainability initiatives in between rivals, even if levels of competition regulation compliance is often a point of consideration. Regardless of these significant considerations on the necessity of invoking the Pointers on sustainability agreements, we can only applaud the way in which the ACM is paving the way for conversations of this critical policy topic.



[1] On finalisation of this article (6 September 2022), the ACM printed 3 informal views and two press releases in relation to sector initiatives with a sustainability angle and in which it utilized its Tips on sustainability agreements: Informal Opinion ACM 2 September 2022, reference: ACM/UITNZP/001508 (Yard Retail Sector) Push release ACM 26 July 2022 (Cooperation comfortable-drink suppliers) Informal Feeling ACM 27 June 2022, reference: ACM/UITNZP/001473 (Task Aramis – Shell/TotalEnergies) Press launch ACM 28 February 2022 (Cooperation VEMW wind power) Casual Impression ACM 24 February 2022, reference: ACM/UITNZP/001356 (Regional grid operators).

[2] Informal Feeling ACM 2 September 2022, reference: ACM/UITNZP/001508 (Back garden Retail Sector) Push launch ACM 26 July 2022 (Cooperation soft-consume suppliers) Casual Feeling ACM 27 June 2022, reference: ACM/UITNZP/001473 (Project Aramis – Shell/TotalEnergies).

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