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Klimaneutral – was ist das?

Why we are saying goodbye to climate neutrality

"Climate neutral", "climate positive", "CO2 negative" - ​​you will find these terms more and more often on products, in sustainability reports and on websites. Yes, even with us they were already to be found. Even if we approve of all the efforts to drastically reduce carbon emissions, we want to distance ourselves from these terms in the future. We have repeatedly dealt with how and with which terminology we want to communicate our sustainability efforts to the outside world and have finally come to a decision: we must and want to explain the meaning of vague terminology and shed light on greenwashing.


Climate neutral and climate positive – what does that even mean?

The term “climate neutral” is often used by and for companies, processes and products whose greenhouse gas emissions are first calculated and then offset by supporting internationally recognized climate protection projects. Another term for climate neutrality is “net zero CO2 emissions”. Translated, this means that the bottom line is that no CO2 gets into the air. For most people who don’t exactly deal with climate terminology on a daily basis, a logical conclusion would be: A carbon-neutral company leaves no carbon footprint at all. But that's not quite right.

The term “climate positive” leaves even more room for interpretation, as there is currently no uniform definition for this term. The understanding and perception of this term are correspondingly unclear. Some describe their company or their products as climate-positive as soon as they offset “significantly more” CO2 than is generated in their value chain. Others, on the other hand, only describe themselves or their products as climate-positive if they absorb more CO2 than they emit, regardless of certificates and climate protection projects. In this case, the main factors that come into play are climate-neutral production, the conversion of various production processes and your own company initiatives, from which others also benefit.

nucao is the climate-friendly chocolate bar from the nu company

The conceptual problem

Declaring products as “climate neutral” is not protected by law. In other words, the sole use of the term does not mean that the company has no CO2 emissions. It only signals that the company is making compensation payments for the corresponding product. However, the conditions under which this takes place are neither standardized nor prescribed - the entire product life cycle or just the manufacturing process in the company may have been taken into account. In addition, the term does not allow any statement as to whether the company is trying to reduce other environmental impacts or whether the product itself is environmentally friendly.


Statements such as “100% climate-neutral production” or “climate-neutral product” give the impression to the outside world that climate-neutrality is fully achieved through measures to avoid emissions. Unfortunately, the phrase "unavoidable emissions" also leaves far too much room for interpretation. Because what counts as “unavoidable” depends on the initial situation, the measures that have already been implemented and the reduction potential that exists in the short, medium and long term.


The term "climate positive" is also mostly misleading, because overcompensation cannot simply be equated with climate positivity. Because how much more CO2 is saved for a guaranteed declaration than has to be consumed has not yet been uniformly defined.

The problem with the compensation

Many critics disparagingly refer to climate compensation as the sale of indulgences. While some compensation providers offer a ton of CO2 for just €10, the Federal Environment Agency – taking all damage costs into account – calculates a value of at least €180 per ton. Unfortunately, some compensation projects are now so cheap that companies do not even bother to invest in avoiding and reducing emissions or improving their products.


But why doesn't the positive (the overcompensated emissions) just cancel out the negative (the emissions created)?


There are four main reasons for this:


1. It is very difficult to say how big the impact of a project really is. In many cases you have to question the effectiveness yourself, in other cases the result only becomes apparent after a very long time. Planted trees, for example, absorb and store carbon – but only as long as they are not felled.

2. There is always a risk of double counting. This means that multiple parties (states or companies) are credited for the same emission reductions or removals of greenhouse gases.


3. Many projects were not specially initiated, but would have been carried out anyway - even without the contribution to carbon offsetting. However, the express requirement for a compensation project is that it is carried out in addition.


4. Some projects reduce greenhouse gas emissions but actually increase them in another area. If trees are planted on land that was previously used by the local population for animal feed or for agriculture, farmers usually have no choice but to clear the vegetation at a new location.

How do we solve this problem?

We too cannot simply undo CO2 emissions and environmental impacts as a result of product manufacture. If “carbon neutral” means that we only have to invest an amount X in a climate project to offset our CO2 emissions, then to be honest, the concept of carbon neutrality is not really our cup of tea.


However, we are certain that we are setting the last building block of a holistic and economically successful sustainability concept with truly sustainable and ecological solutions that go beyond mere CO2 compensation. As a company, we don't just want to be aware of our own effects and honestly point out behavior that is harmful to the climate.


Instead, we want to place a stronger focus on environmental impacts within our own value chain - and that includes the sustainable design of our products. Vegan recipes, fair cocoa from agroforestry, no palm oil - all this contributes holistically to environmentally friendly products.


In our opinion, the most honest and effective way to stop the climate crisis consists of the following three steps:


1. In the future we will balance the exact environmental footprint of all our products and activities and show transparently how exactly our calculations are made. In this way, our consumers can see at any time which amount has been accounted for, reduced and compensated. As an environmentally friendly company, this is clearly our responsibility.


2. We continuously do everything we can to keep avoidable emissions along our entire production chain and within the company as low as possible. This includes measures such as certification for our cocoa, strengthening the cocoa cooperatives in Peru, more research into even more sustainable packaging alternatives, changes in recipes, the use of even more sustainable raw materials, etc.


3. We invest in recognized and demonstrably effective environmental projects that we are convinced can contribute to the fight against the environmental crisis.



How to proceed for us

What does that mean for our future external communication? Maximum transparency about our environmental impact and compensation calculations! We want everyone to be transparent and honest about the positive and negative effects each person has on the environment through the consumption of nucao. We shed light on the meaning of vague climate terminology and can help ensure that nobody is misled by “greenwashed” packaging and product claims.


In the future, we will label our products as "environmentally friendly" or "climate-friendly" to continue to show that our products are sustainably good for the environment. Not only do they have an extremely low negative impact on the environment, but the sum of our economic activities contributes to a positive impact on our planet. To do this, we have already measured our environmental impact in order to continuously reduce it and then be able to offset it and even exceed it.

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Sources:

(1) https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/presse/pressemitteilungen/hohe-kosten-durch-unterfallenen-umweltschutz


(2) https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/umwelttipps-fuer-den-alltag/mobilitaet/kompensation-von-treibhausgas Emissions#gewusst-wie


(3) https://www.handelsblatt.com/technik/thespark/greenwashing-mit-klimaneutralitaet-darf-nicht-jeder-werben-abmahnung-fuer-mehrer-unternehmen/27205264.html?ticket=ST-1290683-PruKC0Jq7heBcbZOPK0O -cas01.example.org


(4) https://www.heise.de/background/Greenwashing-Wie-sich-die-Wirtschaft-klimaneutral-rechnet-6236244.html