The BEUC demand for ban of carbon-neutral claims: inoqo voices its support

March 27, 2023

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) published a reporton 9th March 2023 calling for  carbon-neutral claims, including those onfood products, to be banned entirely. inoqo fully supports the BEUCs demand dueto the misleading nature of carbon-neutral labels.

What is offsetting?

To offset emissions, a business must purchase carbon credits equivalent to the emissions they cannot avoid. Offsetting one tonne of carbon means one less tonne of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon offset programs can include a variety of carbon projects to meet business objectives.(1)

Three examples of carbon offsetting

Forestry: Tree planting projects aim to restore areas plagued by deforestation. Since trees absorb and hold carbon, getting rid of them makes global warming worse.

Water management: Such projects divert clean water to regions with polluted or contaminated water in order to reduce the need to chemically treat or boil water.

Carbon sequestration: Via carbon capture and storage carbon is stored in places where it's unlikely to be released back into the atmosphere. This may include storing carbon in soil, swamps, trees and even in rocks. (1)

Why is the BEUC demanding an outright ban of carbon-neutral claims?

A 2019 BEUC survey revealed that 3 in 4 consumers want to make their eating habits more environmentally friendly. However, they struggle to do so, partly because of the difficulties in identifying truly sustainable products in store. (4)

With green claims to be found on most product packaging these days, ‘greenwashing’ has become a major issue. In such cases, a company’s green claims are a mere marketing tool rather than serious environmental action.

The BEUC is calling on the EU to ban the use of carbon neutral claims for all food and drink products for the following reasons:

1. It is scientifically inaccurate to claim any food product can be ‘carbon neutral’ as its production always causes the emission of carbon (or other greenhouse gases such as methane).

2. Carbon offsetting, on which these claims are based, is a controversial practice that does not guarantee any ‘locking in’ of carbon in the future. It gives the impression of serious action being taken but really delays it for many years and relieves companies from actually cutting their current emissions.

3. These claims are misleading consumers. Many consumers would be disappointed  if they knew these claims do not mean a serious reduction of emission intensive activities.

4. The complaints process is so slow that the climate greenwashing going on here won’t be stopped in time.

5. Climate neutral claims on food such as meat or dairy can stop consumers from making dietary changes (e.g. eating a more plant based diet) that would have a more significant climate impact.

Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC, made the following statement:

“Green marketing messages such as ‘carbon neutral’, ‘CO2neutral’, or ‘carbon positive’ are doing more harm than good. For climate-damaging meat or dairy products, such positive-sounding claims are bound to encourage a status quo in consumption habits. This is utterly counterproductive at a time of climate emergency, when consumers are hungry for reliable and meaningful information to help them adopt more environmentally friendly diets. The EU must seize the legislative opportunities in the coming weeks to weed out carbon-neutral claims from the market.” (3)

Surveys revealing the extent of the carbon-offsetting issue

A number of different surveys give an insight into how muddled the entire carbon-neutral field truly is and how it is enveloping consumers in a false sense of security.

German consumer organisation vzbv found that ‘CO2 neutral’ and ‘climate neutral’ claims were more powerful than providing the product’s detailed CO2 footprint. Using green claims on carbon-intensive food products could even obscure consumers’ previously held correct judgements on their climate impact, the survey showed.

Without climate labels, 70% of consumers correctly classified three food products (a vegan burger patty, a pork schnitzel and a beef rump steak) based on their greenhouse gas emissions. As soon as these products featured ‘climate neutral’ claim, consumers were confused and the amount of consumers correctly ranking these products became less than one third.  What is more, over a quarter of people even believed that the beefsteak was the most climate-friendly item. Even more concerning, only 8% of consumers objectively understood that ‘carbon-neutral’ did not mean ‘no greenhouse gas emissions’ had been caused. (2)

Hélène Saurais, Co-Founder of inoqo, is not surprised about these survey findings.

“Consumers look for convenience and they don’t want to be overwhelmed with labels and information. Also, it's hard to change eating habits, so if your favourite product says ‘climate neutral’, it is so tempting to believe the label so that you don't have to change.
“The reality is completely different. The environmental and social impact of any product is a very complex calculation which can not be reduced to only one ‘label’ such as climate neutral. A product can have low CO2emissions but a really bad impact on water or social communities. A detailed emissions breakdown helps consumers debunk myths, such as the idea that bananas are bad because of the long way they are transported, when in fact they can have a lower impact than a tomato in Austria in winter.” 

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) did a study on environmental claims, which revealed that using offsetting to claim carbon neutrality was a primary source of confusion and misunderstanding. Consumers felt mislead when they discovered that companies were not directly reducing their carbon emissions but rather relying on carbon offsets. (2)

This is unsurprising in light of some advertising practices existing today. The Austrian Arbeiterkammer found a retailer advertising on street billboards that processed pork products they sell were supposedly ‘CO2neutral’. Only on the retailer’s website is it revealed that, ‘climate protection projects’ (carbon offsetting) such as reforestation activities inColombia make up a major part of their claim.

Companies use the argument that they have certifications to prop up their misleading claims. However, an investigation by UK and German journalists into the world’s largest carbon certification organisation (which certifies three quarters of the world’s carbon credits), revealed that over 90%of the credits certified were of almost no environmental benefit.

To make matters worse, an analysis of existing climate commitments of 6,500 companies concluded that these pledges, combined with those already made by countries, would require more than double the land available to grow the trees and forests for carbon credits, further rendering offsetting claims meaningless. (2)

All of the above have led to the BEUC demanding that carbon neutral claims, including on food products, should be banned as they do not stand up to scientific scrutiny.

inoqo founder Markus Linder supports the BEUC’s demand. 

“Carbon neutral claims for food and drink are misleading and potentially harmful for consumers and the environment,” he says. “Carbon neutrality is a vague and ambiguous concept that does not reflect the true environmental impact of a product. It also allows producers to avoid taking responsibility for reducing their emissions and instead rely on questionable offsetting schemes that may not deliver real benefits.”

Saurais fully agrees. “We have to be very careful with the words we use. No food nor drink is climate neutral. Even tap water has an impact, minimal but still. Similar to ‘sustainable’ or ‘green flying’, this term is really misleading or maybe even manipulative and it does not correspond to reality.”

Should the practice of carbon offsetting be banned completely?

Saurais believes offsetting should only ever be a last resort. “I support offsetting when there is no other option, but we have to be cautious.

I recently discovered that around half of the trees planted for offsetting were dead or not growing in a healthy manner. (5) Our only way to reduce our impact is to reduce our consumption.” 

While Linder does believe there is a place for high-quality offsetting when it can’t be avoided, he too urges caution. “Offsetting is not a solution to the climate crisis. It is a way of postponing or transferring the problem to someone else. Offsetting does not address the root causes of emissions, such as inefficient production methods, wasteful consumption patterns, or unsustainable land use. Offsetting also creates a false sense of security and complacency among consumers and producers, who may think they can continue with business as usual without changing their behaviour or practices.”

The solution to true emission reduction is transparency and accountability

“At inoqo, we do not use carbon neutrality as a criterion for assessing the environmental impact of food and drink products,” explainsLinder. “We use a comprehensive and transparent approach that considers multiple indicators, such as greenhouse gas emissions, water footprint, land use change, biodiversity loss, and animal welfare.”

This approach is also a way of ensuring consumers do not feel blindsided, as they can access all the detailed information regarding a product’s impact, should they wish to do so.

“We provide consumers with clear and accurate information about the environmental performance of each product, based on reliable datasources and scientific methods. Our goal is to present information to consumers in a way that is easy to understand, engaging, and actionable. We use visual aids such as icons, graphs, and color codes to highlight the environmental impact of each product along different dimensions.

Thereby, we also empower consumers to make informed choices that align with their values and preferences, and to reduce their environmental footprint by choosing products with lower impact.”

Would you like to move beyond superficial sustainability claims and truly tackle the impact of your products on the planet? Send us an email at to find out how we can assist you in becoming both transparent and accountable on your journey to sustainability.








March 27, 2023

by Laura

from inoqo

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