Injunctions against “climate-neutral” advertising

Climate neutral is the word of the hour in business. But what does that mean? The competition center has a clear opinion and is suing some companies for omission, including Aldi Süd – the discounter is defending itself.

When is a company really climate neutral?

SCalling me climate neutral is in vogue among companies. The term is also appearing more and more frequently in advertising. The motives are clear: In view of ongoing climate change, it gives consumers a good feeling when they have the impression that they are not encouraging it with their consumption. But what does that mean exactly: climate neutral? When companies publicly boast about it or advertise their products in this way, there is often a trade behind it: The companies buy CO2 certificates that offset the emissions that arise. The money is often used to carry out projects in developing countries that reduce emissions there.

In a possibly groundbreaking decision, the competition headquarters has now classified advertising with the term “climate-neutral”, which is based on this compensation trade, as “misleading” and warned twelve companies. This was announced by the self-regulatory institution of the German economy, which is supposed to maintain fair competition, on Wednesday. It “creates the impression that 100 percent climate neutrality is achieved through emission-avoiding or emission-reducing measures”. This applies not only to advertising, but also to other corporate communications, said Tudor Vlah, who is responsible for environmentally-related advertising at the competition center. “It doesn’t really make any difference whether it’s in a press release or in an advertisement.”

Injunctive action against Aldi Süd

The head office is striving for legal certainty about the requirements for “climate-neutral” advertising, too often it is about greenwashing, said Vlah. In twelve cases, warnings were sent, and some proceedings are still ongoing. Six companies have decided not to distribute the criticized advertising any further. The central office has filed an injunction against four others, who refused to agree with the central office’s opinion. This included advertising for “climate-neutral” plastic garbage bags and “premium heating oil”. Also on the list: “First climate-neutral food retailer”, a phrase used by Aldi Süd to advertise. Vlah confirmed that it was the discounter. “Aldi Süd found their own behavior right,” said Vlah.

“The matter is currently ongoing. We therefore ask for your understanding that we are currently not providing any further information on this, ”said the discounter when asked by the FAZ and then added an explanation:“ Climate-neutral ”means something other than“ emission-free ”. “A balanced CO2 balance is achieved when unavoidable CO2 emissions are offset in the context of certified climate protection projects,” said Aldi. Customers are familiar with the concept. In addition, you regularly provide transparent information about your own measures in the area of ​​climate protection.

The competition center considers the purchase of CO2 certificates in itself a good measure. “The compensation of the remaining emissions” is to be welcomed, says Vlah. However, “this must be clearly pointed out. Only then can the customer make an informed decision. ”According to the institution, it is necessary to clearly separate: How high are the savings from measures taken by the company and how much is compensated by certificates? One problem is that there are “very different CO2 certificates on the market” that are different in their effectiveness and cost. Companies should also provide information about where the environmental protection projects are being carried out. In doing so, the head office relies on the law against unfair competition. This requires “the essential information required by the consumer to make an informed decision to be given transparently in advertising”. According to Vlah, no decision has yet been made in any of the proceedings; they are being brought before regional courts.

Jan Pechmann, head of the strategy consultancy Diffferent and initiator of the first German climate marketing award, welcomed the approach. Climate marketing is a “hot topic” in the industry. Some make it too easy for themselves: “Anyone who compensates one tonne of CO2 for one euro is doing greenwashing.” The companies that were serious were pleased with the decision of the competition headquarters.