07 May 2024, 13:18
Benjamin Wehrmann

Many commercials in Germany promote climate-damaging products - analysis

Clean Energy Wire

Commercials that promote climate-damaging products are in violation of Germany’s State Treaty for Media, the labour union-affiliated Otto-Brenner-Foundation said. The treaty that regulates rights and duties of electronic media in the country is being undermined “to a high degree” by commercials that encourage the purchase of products with a negative impact on the climate. “Ongoing climate change and the looming climate catastrophe require policies that recognise these violations of rules, sanctions them and prevents them,” for example by simply banning advertisements for certain products or entire product groups, the foundation said.

A group of researchers from the University of Leipzig reviewed nearly 10,000 commercials on Germany’s largest TV stations and on online video service YouTube and calculated the CO2-footprint of the advertised products. With about 30 percent, nearly a third of the analysed commercials encouraged viewers to buy climate-damaging products or services. The researchers identified product groups that are especially relevant for the climate. A product was only certified as harmful to the climate if it has a high carbon footprint or if there are more environmentally friendly alternatives or the product can be considered dispensable, said the report.

This included spots for sweets, of which 86 percent were regarded as detrimental to the climate, for example due to the high CO2-footprint of chocolate. Other products groups included cars or drugstore products, with three quarters of all commercials in both cases promoting climate-damaging purchases. “We’re used to commercials for cars, air travel, beef burgers, coffee and many other high-emissions products,” said researcher Uwe Krüger. “But if you consider that commercials are an appeal to buyers, this makes an absurdity become apparent: We appeal to the people to continue buying and consuming climate-killers,” he argued.

Germany’s State Treaty for Media stipulates that advertisements which “threaten environmental protection to a high degree” are prohibited, but this premise is frequently being violated in practice, according to Otto-Brenner-Foundation head Jupp Legrand. He said labels that clearly indicate a product’s climate impact or a pricing system that factors in this impact in commercials provide possible ways to counteract advertisements’ negative effects on the climate. However, depending on the scale of a product’s negative impact, banning commercials should also be an option, Legrand said. “The status quo can no longer be justified,” he added.

"Green claims" by companies about the sustainability and climate impact of their products have shifted into focus in recent years, after it emerged that many claims are unfounded and products often have a much more damaging effect than advertised. The EU has banned claims for products that are not based on scientifically agreed principles to curb company greenwashing.

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