26 Sep 2022, 12:14
Sören Amelang

“Climate neutral” product labels mislead vast majority of consumers – survey

Clean Energy Wire

Products advertised as “climate neutral” mislead consumers because the vast majority of people don’t have a clear idea what the claim means, according to a survey by a German consumer advice centre. “Only 3 out of 100 respondents know in detail what is behind the label ‘climate neutral’,” said North Rhine-Westphalia’s consumer protection centre. Even particularly environmentally conscious consumers are unaware of the label’s full meaning, the survey revealed. “The misconception that the manufacturing companies are committed to reducing CO2 emissions is even more prevalent among this group than on average,” said the centre’s Wolfgang Schuldzinski. “Thus, such labels mislead consumers. We need reliable labels that meet people's expectations and leave no room for greenwashing."

The number of retail products labelled as “climate neutral” or “CO2 neutral” is rising rapidly, but these claims remain unregulated. In common use, they merely promise that companies calculate the CO2 emissions of the respective product over its life cycle, and buy a corresponding amount of carbon offset certificates from climate protection projects elsewhere on the globe. “However, the majority of consumers are not aware of this. Instead, they expect that products advertised in this way are actually produced in a way that is less harmful to the climate,” the consumer advice centre said, and called for a ban on climate claims that solely rely on offsetting. A number of NGOs are currently in the process of suing companies for the use of climate claims in Germany and abroad.

42 percent of respondents believed that products labelled as “climate neutral” take climate and/or environmental protection into account, or that they are "environmentally friendly," according to the consumer centre. 21 percent said the claim was about “environmentally friendly production", while 18 percent associated climate neutral products with "less/reduced/no CO2 emissions". Another 21 percent said it was about "regionality, short transport routes" or "less plastic and packaging". Only 13 per cent of the survey participants explicitly mentioned the principle of CO2 offsetting. 86 percent of respondents said that a product should not be labelled "climate neutral" if it was not produced in a climate-friendly way.

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