Important BGH ruling: only those who effectively avoid CO2 emissions are "climate neutral"

When can companies advertise as "climate neutral"? A BGH ruling clarifies

The topic of climate neutrality is more topical than ever. More and more companies are advertising their products and services as "climate neutral" in order to strengthen their environmentally friendly image. But what is actually behind this term? A recent Landmark ruling of the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) has made it clear that companies must be careful when using this term. They may not use it without explaining what exactly they mean by it. This article sheds light on the ruling and its implications for companies' advertising.

Overview

  • Climate neutralityCompanies must clearly define whether they are avoiding or offsetting emissions.
  • Risk of misleading information: Unclear information on climate neutrality can Deceiving consumers.
  • Legal clarityBGH ruling requires detailed explanations in advertising.

The BGH ruling on Greenwashing

In a landmark ruling, the BGH decided that companies may only advertise with the term "climate neutral" if they explain in the advertising itself what exactly they mean by this. This is particularly important for consumers, as it makes a big difference whether emissions are avoided or merely offset. The ruling (judgment of 27.06.2024, ref. I ZR 98/23) makes it clear that a precise explanation is necessary in order to avoid misleading information.

The Katjes case: an example of misleading advertising

The Centre for Combating Unfair Competition had filed a lawsuit against the fruit gum manufacturer Katjes. Katjes had claimed in a trade journal that it had been producing all its products in a climate-neutral way since 2021. This statement was misleading, as the production process was by no means CO2-neutral. Instead, the company supported climate protection projects to offset the emissions. The Wettbewerbszentrale saw this as deceiving consumers, who could get the impression that the manufacturing process was emission-free.

Katjes continued its campaign with the slogan "Katjes has been producing all products climate-neutrally since 2021" and referred to the website of a "ClimatePartner". In reality, however, Katjes was merely offsetting its emissions through climate protection projects instead of reducing them directly. This could lead consumers to believe that the production itself was climate-neutral, which was not the case.

Different judicial opinions

While the Kleve Regional Court and the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court initially ruled in favor of Katjes, the BGH decided otherwise. It clarified that the term "climate-neutral" could include both the avoidance and compensation of emissions and that such a Ambiguity misleading is. A precise explanation in the advertising is therefore necessary.

The OLG Düsseldorf argued that readers of the trade journal would understand the term "climate-neutral" in the sense of a balanced CO2 balance, which could be achieved through both avoidance and compensation measures. A more precise explanation was therefore not necessary. The BGH disagreed with this view and overturned the judgments of the lower courts.

Why a clear definition of climate neutrality is important

The BGH emphasized that misleading statements on climate neutrality are relevant under competition law, as they can significantly influence consumers' purchasing decisions. A precise explanation is therefore essential in order to assess the actual environmental friendliness of a product.

Significance for consumers and companies

Consumers have an increased interest in knowing whether a product is really environmentally friendly or is only presented as such through offsetting measures. Companies must therefore formulate their advertising messages carefully and be transparent about how they achieve climate neutrality.

Practical implications of the ruling

For companies, the ruling means that they must revise their advertising and clarify whether they are avoiding or offsetting emissions. This requires transparent communication and possibly also changes to production processes in order to fulfill the claim of climate neutrality.

Conclusion

The BGH ruling ensures that consumers are better informed and that companies must communicate their environmental promises clearly and unambiguously. Climate neutrality must not be an empty promise, but must be underpinned by concrete measures. Companies now have a duty to be precise and transparent in their advertising in order to gain and maintain consumer trust.

FAQs

  • What does "climate neutral" mean? Climate-neutral means that the CO2 emissions of a product or company are either avoided or fully offset.
  • Why is the BGH ruling on climate neutrality important? The ruling protects consumers from misleading advertising and ensures that companies provide transparent information about their environmental measures.
  • How can companies achieve climate neutrality? Companies can achieve climate neutrality by avoiding or reducing emissions or offsetting them through climate protection projects.
  • What consequences does the BGH ruling have for companies? Companies must be more precise in their advertising claims and clarify how they achieve climate neutrality in order to avoid being misleading.
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