German court bans advertising with “carbon neutral company” logo from Climate Partner
Famiy company Werner & Mertz sees the ruling as a precedent for the entire industry
With its ruling on 10 November 2022, the Frankfurt provincial high court and court of appeal (OLG Frankfurt) prohibited Sonett, a German manufacturer of washing and cleaning products, from using the ClimatePartner seal “carbon neutral company” in its advertising in Germany. This information appeared on the Website www.sonett.eu. The court thus ruled in favor of Werner & Mertz, which had legally contested the use of the advertising. Werner & Mertz is a company in the owner-managed Werner & Mertz Group with production sites in Mainz and Hallein/Austria.
The judgment affecs only Sonett and applies only to the specifically challenged advertising in Germany. From the Werner & Mertz perspective, the ruling’s significance extends beyond the specific case and sends a powerful signal relevant to the entire industry.
Significant emissions are excluded
“In our opinion, the court’s decision is a precedent for all the companies that use or want to use the claim ‘carbon netural company’ in current and future advertising,” says Werner & Mertz owner Reinhard Schneider.
In the interim proceedings, the Frankfurt OLG made clear that it is fundamentally unfair for a company to describe itself as “carbon neutral” if emissions were excluded in calculating the company’s carbon footprint. Sonett conceded during the proceedings that it did not take all emissions into account. “To the best of our knowledge, excluding significant emissions is a widespread practice by companies that advertise with the ‘carbon neutral’ or a ‘climate neutral’ claim,” Schneider says.
For the awarding of the “carbon neutral company” seal , ClimatePartner GmbH does not require that all emissions caused by the company—particularly the significant ones—are recorded and offset in CO2 emissions accounting. According to ClimatePartner’s “quality guidelines”, it is permissible to exclude most emissions in Scope 3, which includes those related to all raw materials for the products and their packaging and all inbound and outbound logistics. These “guidelines” also state that 15 “emission sources” can be disregarded. “We see this as a clear case of fraudulent labeling because those emission sources make up a significant portion of the actual carbon footprint,“ says Schneider.
Potential to deceive consumers
There is great potential for deception when a company does not include Scope 3 emissions in the accounting of its own CO2 emissions even though most emissions are caused there. This exclusion leaves the impression that ClimatePartner or those with the seal awarded by ClimatePartner arbitrarily decide which emissions to include or exclude in their CO2 emissions calculations. As a rule, the accounting remains incomplete but implies a complete (and even simple) solution to a complex problem. “That would be the height of greenwashing!“ Schneider says.
Sonett must observe the decision of the OLG Frankfurt as there are no longer any legal remedies available in expedited proceedings. A final decision on the issue could be made in main court proceedings. Since the ruling, Sonnet has changed its Website and has removed the ClimatePartner logo.