Greenwashing, certified? How to ensure new laws and standards do not rubberstamp dubious climate neutrality claims
Claims of ‘climate neutrality’ have become omnipresent on products and services. But are they credible and should we believe them?
Recent investigations show that we should not. Of the 24 companies evaluated in the 2023 Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor1 report, not a single one achieved a high integrity rating, with only one scoring reasonable integrity. The study found that nearly all claims relied on loopholes or tricks to exaggerate their ambition as well as company climate targets.
The issue with carbon neutrality claims is rather fundamental: there is simply no such thing as a climate neutral company or product. These claims usually rely on offsetting credits rather than on real progress made by a business. Most consumers do not understand what the claim is based on, and it gives them a false reassurance that consumption patterns do not need to change. In fact, such claims impede structural change as they divert our attention to small, inefficient gains. This is why misleading carbon neutrality claims should be banned.
Carbon neutrality has captured the public’s imagination and has become an integral part of marketing. It is now an important way to advertise industry commitment to stop climate change, replacing other ways of communicating on real contributions.
This trend should not, however, overshadow the fact that real, sound solutions exist for companies willing to advertise their contribution to sustainability, from reporting on their own activities, to issuing separate communications on the projects they have supported through funding. Companies communicating their green efforts is not a bad thing. Quite the contrary, it is a way to disclose their progress and inspire competitors, while, for consumers, reliable information on climate impacts can be an indication of what choices to make.
Regulations and standards need to be crystal clear as to what reliable marketing is. Thankfully, legislators and standardisers have started to work towards tackling climate claims. The difficulty, however, lies in the approach: instead of proactively shaping ambitious legislation, policymakers are reactive to a situation that is already out of control, while the market is trying to enshrine misleading practices into international standards.
With this paper, we aim to help policymakers and standardisers make the right choice and ensure that climate neutrality claims become a thing of the past.