27 Jul 2023, 13:21
Carolina Kyllmann

Court rules German drugstore chain must stop advertising certain products as ‘climate neutral’

Clean Energy Wire

German drugstore chain DM is no longer allowed to advertise several of its own brand products as ‘climate neutral’ or ‘environmentally neutral’, a court ruled on 26 July. In a lawsuit brought on by NGO Environmental Action Germany (DUH), the Regional Court of Karlsruhe ruled that there was not enough information on the products themselves to back up the claims (and they lacked the clear reference to a website which could supply such information). The ruling was “an important success against greenwashing in the retail sector” and “a milestone for consumer protection,” DUH head Jürgen Resch said. The court also established that forest protection projects selected for compensation – for example in Peru – were unsuitable to neutralise the climate impact of the advertised products. “The consumer expects that offsetting emissions, which is supposed to lead to the climate neutrality of the product, will bring this about. […] However, CO2 lifetime in the atmosphere extends far beyond that of the forest conservation projects,” the ruling reads.

DUH previously won a greenwashing case against TotalEnergies, while German certifier ClimatePartner – also DM’s partner organisation for these products – has already decided to phase out its ‘carbon neutral’ label in the face of growing criticism. Supermarket chain Rewe stopped advertising own-brand products as ‘climate neutral’ last year, as they used carbon offsetting to back the claim, and drugstore Rossmann also removed its ‘climate neutral’ labelling from self-branded products following an investigation which found these were unsubstantiated. Many ‘climate neutral’ claims rely on questionable commitments to offset continued emissions, but these claims are difficult to verify and mostly don't add up when checked carefully. In the worst cases, they are greenwashing – misleading consumers and investors by hiding continued emissions. Court rulings over corporate climate pledges are expected to have a major impact on companies' future use of climate claims in advertising and other communications. The European Commission has proposed a set of detailed rules for companies to back up their green claims on products.

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