What gets to be called green online?

I work at the Green Web Foundation, and part of my job is maintaining a platform to help people find providers of green digital hosted services. I was asked about whether recent changes in the law might impact what gets called a green hosted service there. I’ve shared my thoughts here because a) LinkedIn has a 1000 character limit, and b) the answer isn’t fully official – we’re still figuring it out.

The question

I’m curious if the new EU legislation on green claims impacts your work and if so how it might change the nature of claims being made? E.g. would terms like “green hosting provider”be problematic under the new rules?

The short version:

Yes, it almost definitely impacts our work, and personally I welcome it, because I think it’ll help resolve a number of unresolved issues around the way people talk about green energy when selling services. I expect the nature of claims over time would be more granular and specific, and be scoped to the services, or *even a location where a specific service is available*, more than being about the provider.

The longer version:

(This is my personal opinion – we’re still figuring out what details of implementing the laws mean at the level of making PRs on a platform, or rewriting published guidance)

Yes, it almost definitely impacts our work, and we’ll likely need to revise the guidance about verification and the evidence we accept – from catering primarily to an interested reader who doesn’t have that much domain expertise, and to also supporting a more sophistated reader looking for more precise and technical information for their own mandatory disclosure.

It’s a real challenge to make this subject both easy to understand AND correct, because even within the same European country. you can point to scenarios where following the EU’s own guidance on classing energy as ‘green’ (as in each unit of power sold is backed by some form of guarantee of origin from renewable sources), can still result in it being classed as misleading by the same country’s advertising standards authority.

Ireland is a good example where this happened recently, with Energia being ordered to drop 100% renewable claims are a complaint to Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland.

I think this example is interesting because for a green claim to be considered valid in the directive, it needs to be based on a recognised scheme for substantiating environmental performance, and here we have one such scheme, which in the eyes of the law might be considered valid, but still counts as misleading.

Personally, I think the complaints in that story are really worth addressing, because there are all kinds of issues introduced when you rely on an annual certificate based claims, and when you allow the certificates to be decoupled from the generation – these are examples of the “unresolved issues” I was referring to in the short version.

Finally because these directives are passed at an EU level, but the enforcement appears to happen at an national level, I think the precedents being set over the next couple of years, as they’re implemented in different countries will give more of a steer about what specifically gets to be called green or not.

As I understand it, this is different to the something like another big, recent piece of European legislation – the Digital Markets Act, where the enforcement happens at the EU federation level, not the national level. This matters, because national level bodies might not to be as well funded as a federal level body with similar responsibilities, so different precedents in law might be set.

There’s a whole separate discussion about linking energy use to actual use of compute. I’m an active participant in the GSF Real Time Carbon working group to figure out standards for this might look like, (see this specific issue for more) and we have a few issues in CO2.js that go into the detail associated with linking a single specific kilowatt hour of power to a single certificate representing green energy generation – this one is a good example. I