Shipping’s false green claims won’t be allowed in the EU

Regulators… want to prevent companies from false ‘greening’ their public image
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By Mariusz Pleban
Partner, OneMulti, Poland

The European Union’s lawmakers have been among global leaders in environmental regulation. The flagship initiatives of Green Deal and Fit for 55 are the frameworks that determine the entire structure of the Europe’s economy. Regulators not only set the non-financial reporting rules, but also want to prevent companies from the false ‘greening’ of their public image. The upcoming ‘anti-greenwashing’ directives are to secure the consumers’ right to receive true environmental information from business.

Time for anti-greenwashing

The renowned Corporate Sustainability Reporting (CSRD) and Corporate Sustainable Due Diligence (CSDD) directives will involve any industry, including maritime transport. The EU has also developed some dedicated frameworks for the sector – e.g. FuelEU Maritime Regulation (promoting the use of renewable and low-carbon fuels) and included it in the Emissions Trading System (ETS). Now, the upcoming Substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims (‘Green Claims’) and Empowering consumers for the green transition (‘Anti-greenwashing’) directives will address how companies communicate their sustainability to the public. These regulations are designed to end deceptive claims where business tries to show itself as more ‘eco’ than it really is.

What are ‘green claims’?

A ‘green’ or environmental claim refers to any assertion by a business regarding the environmental aspects or impacts of its product or service. Under the new directives, such claims must be clear, accurate, and supported by credible and scientifically valid data. Businesses will need to substantiate their environmental claims through detailed, verifiable action plans and targets, which must be reviewed and certified by external experts. This ensures that a green claim is not merely a marketing slogan, but a statement backed by rigorous evidence and transparent reporting.

Greenwashing in maritime shipping

Although the two ‘anti-greenwashing’ EU directives are yet to come into force, the problem itself has been named and well recognised. Activist organisations are trying to highlight greenwashing cases and prompt changes in business behaviour. And the maritime sector is no exception in this matter promoting liquified natural gas (LNG) as ‘green’ fuel in a flagship example.

In September 2023, campaign group Opportunity Green filed a complaint with the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) claiming that large cruise brands, such as Costa, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and others were advertising LNG as environmentally friendly. At the same time, according to numbers provided by Opportunity Green, LNG is up to 83-times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. In 2024, MSC Cruises, which was one of the accused companies, was also reported to the Dutch Advertising Code Committee (RCC) with reference to misleading LNG adverts.

As for smaller local markets, an interesting analysis could be found in one of the Master’s theses published at the Stockholm University, concerning the ferry transport sector in the Baltic Sea. Despite making progress in decarbonisation, each of the four case-study ferry operators (DFDS, Finnlines, Stena Line, Tallink Silja) had been found practising various kinds of greenwashing.

Courts take over the reins

The above examples are just a drop in the sea of potential greenwashing malpractice that escapes the watchful eyes of NGOs, scientists, and the public in general. So far, the maritime business could feel a certain degree of impunity, as a majority of cases have been reported to different kinds of branch organisations, often with no ‘real’ court involved. With the new EU law, false green claims will be dealt with ex-officio by regulatory bodies in each member state of the Union. In short, if reputational damage is not effective enough for business to play fair – accountability to the law definitely will.

Rules mean fines

The combination of EU non-financial reporting laws and the two ‘anti-greenwashing’ directives leaves no space for hiding information about a company’s impact on the environment. That includes the entire lifecycle of products or services offered. The new regulations envision not only the rules to obey, but also penalties for non-compliance. For instance, according to the ‘Green Claims’ directive provisions, EU member states will have the right to impose a maximum fine of at least 4% of company turnover for publishing false environmental claims. Also, businesses which do not obey could expect exclusion (for a maximum of 12 months) from procurement procedures and from access to public financing, including bidding procedures, grants and concessions.

Be prepared in advance

There are still around two years before these ‘anti-greenwashing’ directives come into force. Competence acquisition and restructuring communication will take some time, so it is a wise move for an organisation to prepare for changes in advance. The first greenwashing cases highlighted under the new law will surely be picked up by all media outlets, which will further increase the damage to the first offenders’ public image. Therefore, good preparation is the best way to avoid a crisis situation, financial losses, or exclusions from supplier lists.


Mariusz Pleban (OneMulti) is a Navigate Response Network Partner. Based in Warsaw, the team of crisis communications professionals are well connected and positioned to respond across Eastern Europe.



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