More and more companies claim to be climate neutral. It’s a term that is used to sell goods and services. Even countries say that they are seeking to attain climate neutrality. But who actually determines what ‘climate neutral’ means? And who regulates it?
Climate neutrality has become an important argument when it comes to winning over customers. But it is very hard to pin down exactly what climate neutral actually means. It is not a regulated term, nor is there a universal definition for the label. There are a lot of products and services that claim to be climate neutral these days, such as T-shirts, electricity tariffs and flights. More and more climate neutral goods are popping up on supermarket shelves, too. But there is no general definition to guide consumers. Nor does a legal framework exist to regulate or monitor its use.
At first glance it seems very simple. Something is climate neutral when a manufacturing process or service does not emit more greenhouse gas emissions than can be saved elsewhere. At least that is roughly how the European Parliament, for example, defines climate neutrality. But it’s not quite so simple.
Climate neutrality can also be achieved via offsets. That means companies do not, for instance, reduce harmful gases in the production process, but instead compensate for those emissions later. Anyone who has spent a few euros on offsetting their carbon footprint when buying a flight ticket is familiar with the concept. It does not cut fuel emissions, but the money is used, for example, to plant trees and so contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases. There is also a fundamental discussion going on behind the scenes: Can a company describe itself as climate neutral, if it is primarily achieving that status with offsets? Can products, companies, or entire countries really be or become climate neutral? Or is it all empty promises, yet more greenwashing?