Going Green: The Dos and Don’ts of Green Trade Marks

Green trade marks are trade marks that include any word related to the environment (such as “sustainable”, “eco”, “environment” or “green”) or images (such as flora, the planet or scenery etc.). These trade marks are used by companies who want to communicate environmental aspects and practices of specific products, product groups or even of their whole business.

With various studies showing that over 50% of all consumers consider environmental aspects in their buying decision, Green trade marks can be a powerful marketing tool; attracting environmentally conscious customers and create a positive image.

But as powerful as these marks may be, they are also under legal scrutiny so brand owners do need to tread carefully.

The challenges for Green trade mark adopters

These trade marks face two major challenges:

  1. Green trade mark applications that solely consist of environmental terms (such as eco) and the generic term of the product are likely to be refused by the trademark offices because they are often descriptive and lack distinctiveness.

    Instead, green trade marks should always contain a distinctive element, such as a product or company name. For example, the hypothetical trade mark ECOMER could be a distinctive green trade mark for cleaning products, while ECO CLEANER is not.

    By adding a distinctive element, green trade marks can avoid rejection and enhance their recognition and value.
  2. Additionally, Green trade marks must comply with advertising laws. The European Union has recently adopted the Empowering Consumers Directive, which aims to protect consumers from alleged greenwashing. It will come into effect on 27 September 2026. In particular, the Directive introduces strict rules on so-called “generic environmental claims” and “sustainability labels”. Existing Green trade marks should be reviewed now, against this new Directive, to ensure that investments in the trade marks are not lost in 2026.

Avoid generic environmental terms in Green trade marks

The use of generic environmental claims, such as “environmentally-friendly”, “green” and potentially also “eco” will either require specification (meaning detailed context on the environmental aspects that the product or service itself holds) or so-called “excellent environmental performance”, which essentially means the fulfilment of certain official EU or member state standards.

Providing detailed context of environmental aspects can be difficult for green trade marks: Trade marks are often used in a prominent, but isolated manner, for example in search results or on packaging, where space is limited, and context can rarely be provided. This would only leave “excellent environmental performance” as a justification for generic environmental terms in trademarks – which is also hard to achieve.

So the best strategy is to steer clear of generic terms in Green trade marks and to look for specific terms as inspiration. In practice, this means shifting away from creating trade marks that are inspired by ‘Eco’ and ‘Green’ and instead be inspired by specific terms like Recycling or Refurbished, which could result in Green trademarks like “Re-Vive”.

Don’t create a sustainability label

Finally the use of such Green trade marks should not imply that they are a sustainability label, which means:

any voluntary trust mark, quality mark or equivalent, either public or private, that aims to set apart and promote a product, a process or a business by reference to its environmental or social characteristics, or both, and excludes any mandatory label required under Union or national law.

This fairly broad definition within the Empowering Consumers Directive, which will likely see some litigation to define its scope, covers many icons, labels and may also cover words.

If a Green trade mark is being used as a name for a product category or for various products at the same time that may share the same environmental aspect, it may just be considered a sustainability label. This would trigger the new rules and require a “certification scheme”.

A certification scheme is, among other things, a third-party verification scheme, where label user, the label owner and the label verifier are three independent parties. This would make the continued use of the Green trade mark impossible, unless ownership is transferred and the trade mark is opened to all competitors, defeating its purpose.

In summary

Green trade marks are a valuable asset for companies that want to promote their environmental values and practices.

However, they also hold legal risks, as they are subject to the rules of the Empowering Consumers Directive. Generic environmental terms should be avoided and the use of such trade marks should be considered carefully in a trade mark strategy to avoid becoming a sustainability label.