Can I live climate neutral?
More and more products are being labeled and marketed as "climate neutral". Thank goodness the market for socially and ecologically sustainable products and services are growing. But is it always above board? Of course, it makes sense to label sustainability in order to give consumers transparency about the true origin, the actual production, climate balances, and much more. Orientation on seals is indispensable to enable consumers to make well-founded purchasing decisions. But can "climate neutral" be trusted and what is behind it?
"Climate neutrality" can be achieved if CO₂ emissions are reduced to a minimum and any remaining CO₂ emissions are offset with climate protection measures. If climate-damaging greenhouse gases are avoided completely or gases already emitted are saved elsewhere, this is referred to as climate neutral."
Quote from our offsetting partner myclimate.
Who can become climate neutral?
From shipping to wine, honey, clothing, and cosmetics. You name it. Everything is now available as "climate neutral". Not only products but also countries should become climate neutral. Germany wants to achieve this by 2045. A reduction target of at least 88% has been set for 2040. By 2045, Germany is to be greenhouse gas neutral: This means that there should be a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and greenhouse gas reductions. After 2050, the German government even wants to show negative emissions. In other words, more CO₂ reduction and emission.
Here is an overview of the CO₂ reduction targets (compared to 1990)
🌱 By 2030: 65 percent
🌱 By 2035: 77 percent
🌱 By 2040: 88 percent
🌱 By 2045: 100 percent
Why is this topic so important and frequently discussed at the moment? More and more companies are labeling themselves, i.e. the entire company and its processes, and/or products as climate-neutral. Since "climate neutral" is not a protected term, this is not always completely transparent. Sometimes the designation is also simply misleading, if not incorrect. The Wettbewerbszentrale has filed complaints against a number of companies, including Aldi Süd. Twelve companies are accused of misleading advertising. Four companies have already been banned from advertising with "climate neutral".
How do we define climate neutrality?
What does "climate neutral" actually mean? According to the EU, climate neutrality means a balance between the generation and absorption of CO₂ emissions. The goal here is to achieve a complete balance between the two. Currently, we produce more CO₂ emissions worldwide than can be absorbed by soils, forests, or oceans, the so-called carbon sinks. Soils and forests are increasingly stressed by climate change and increasing soil processing, and as a result can absorb fewer CO₂, or are starting to release more and more CO₂.
We all cause CO₂. In the case of companies, of course, the emissions are significantly greater than for individuals. There are therefore only two ways for companies to reduce emissions:
CO₂ emissions are not reduced at the place where they are produced, but somewhere else in the world where it is cheaper to do so in the same amount. A company pays a sum X to an organization, which issues a certificate stating that the company has offset its emissions. The organization takes the money and uses it to fund projects. Mostly in the Global South. For example, the use of solar stoves is promoted to minimize deforestation. With these projects the entry of climate-damaging gases into the atmosphere is reduced. As a private person, it is also possible to compensate in this way. More about this later.
However, companies also have the option of buying CO₂ emissions certificates from other companies. How does this work? Company A still produces a lot of CO₂ equivalents, while Company B is below the limit of the prescribed CO₂ emissions value in an average comparison. Company B can therefore sell certificates to Company A so that the latter can offset its CO₂ emission value. Advantage: There is a financial incentive for companies to adapt their production facilities to be more climate-friendly.
The company adapts its own processes and, for example, uses climate-friendly raw materials, climate-friendly energy for production, and other sections in the plant are also converted. This scenario is usually more expensive and more complex than offsetting, but better in terms of foresight because fewer CO₂ emissions will also be emitted in the future. So there are also cases where companies even create carbon sinks and are thus "climate positive".
Where is the criticism?
Climate-neutral as Greenwashing
Many companies use offsetting to portray themselves as "climate neutral." The problem with this? In this case, "climate neutral" refers only to a product or a subarea of the company, such as logistics or packaging. However, the company has not yet made any visible CO₂ reductions throughout the company. However, we as consumers assume that the company is "climate neutral". However, trees are only planted for the equivalent value of the packaging materials, and otherwise, just as much CO₂ emissions are blown into the air as before.
Another example of offsetting from the private sector is flying. Flying consumes an incredible amount of CO₂ emissions. And everyone likes to fly to distant cities or countries because there is often not enough vacation time for more "climate-friendly" mobility options. Airlines therefore already offer compensation projects such as tree planting. The catch is that it takes a few years for a young tree to absorb the amount of CO₂ emissions. And not all of the young trees planted make it through and grow. In addition, significantly less CO₂ is stored in forestry forests than in dormant forests, because the soil there is constantly being worked by agricultural equipment and CO₂ is thus released again.
Projects which are certified with the Gold Standard are more trustworthy, as they go through elaborate audit procedures. But even these are no match for the positive result of simply reducing air travel.
Can enterprises be completely "climate neutral" overnight? The good news is that there are companies that are working hard to keep their emissions as low as possible. Now the bad news: A company that is supposed to be "climate neutral" at the snap of a finger can only achieve this through compensation with the purchase of certificates and projects, and neutrality is only found on paper because CO₂ emissions continue to be blown into the air.
Reduction before Compensation
One thing that is incredibly close to our hearts at PLAN3T is that reduction comes before compensation. Even if it would be nice, we cannot "buy our way out" of our responsibility. A comparison is often made here between emissions trading with CO₂ certificates and the church's "trade-in indulgences". Both systems enable people who can raise enough funds to clear their consciences. All without having to rethink and change their behavior. We would like to take another close look at both steps:
Step 1️⃣ Avoid & Reduce
After you have determined your CO₂ footprint (e.g. via the PLAN3T app), the next step is to reduce your CO₂ emissions. This step, of course, requires rethinking and making some behavioral changes. In eating, in traveling, in living, in consuming, pretty much everywhere. But: one thing at a time. Small steps are worthwhile. With all the efforts, however, we also have to be honest. A complete reduction in emissions to 0 is virtually impossible at the moment. Why? Living in Germany alone, using the infrastructure and our current social lifestyle does not allow us to go completely to zero. That's why we need step 2 at the moment.
Step 2️⃣ Compensate
With offsetting, we start at the point where the reduction stops. This involves offsetting the emissions incurred by buying CO₂ certificates elsewhere, through climate protection projects. Often, these projects are located in the Global South. PLAN3T works with a wide range of projects here.
Besides a local project, the renaturation of the Königsmoor in Schleswig Holstein, there is the possibility to support the circular economy in Romania. Furthermore, our user:in can choose the following projects: Cooking Bags in Rwanda, Solar Energy in Tanzania, Biogas in India & Cooking Stations in Rwanda. All projects are provided by non-profit organizations and are Gold Standard certified.
Can I live climate neutral?
Yes and no. It is important to find the right balance between reduction and compensation. First, we have to get everything out of the reduction, and then compensate for what is left. This limit is of course very individual and should develop over time. When one step is done, it means setting higher goals. Again and again. These tips can help you to keep the goal in mind:
🌎 Don't be misled by greenwashing, look closely. Climate-neutral is not yet a label and does not yet signal any standard. It needs our common sense and a sharp eye.
🌏 Ask carefully. If you doubt whether a product or service is really climate neutral, it is usually worth asking the company critically.
🌍 Use PLAN3T as your guide to climate-neutral living. We help you to reduce as much as possible and then compensate for what is left. Start challenges for each week and increase step by step. After that, you can offset through our certified projects.