Miriam Zagel (ClimatePartner): ‘How companies can best communicate about climate efforts’

The German online retailer Bergfreunde.de has been named Germany’s most environmentally conscious company in 2022 by Capital and Statista, which has attracted great media attention. Many other companies also take voluntary climate action and invest time and money in climate-neutral products – but sometimes they are reluctant to disclose this for fear of being criticized.

Bergfreunde.de does many things well: They are constantly working to reduce their emissions and have retroactively compensated for their previously unavoidable emissions. It dates back to the company’s founding in 2006. The company has published an open and accurate description of its climate strategy on its website. The directors regularly publish videos where they talk about their initiatives in the field of climate action and the difficulties they encounter.

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When climate-neutral products are criticized in the media, it is often because the principle of climate neutrality is not fully understood or communicated clearly enough. Therefore, it is crucial that the principles of climate neutrality are explained. Companies, processes and products whose emissions have been calculated, minimized and compensated as much as possible through support from internationally recognized CO2compensation projects, can be considered climate neutral. In addition to avoiding and reducing emissions, equalizing emissions is an important part of a holistic approach to climate change.

Therefore, we recommend explaining the three steps of calculation, reduction and compensation when climate-neutral products and services are mentioned.

Climate neutrality and CO2compensation is often misunderstood, and some critics suggest that this move is deliberately hidden. It is important to note that products are not free of CO2emissions and that companies cannot do business without producing emissions. False accusations can be avoided by making it clear that climate neutrality has been achieved by offsetting CO2emissions through a certified project.

It is even better if companies can demonstrate concrete emission reductions and present them in this context.

The efficiency of CO2compensation projects are often questioned. CO2Compensatory projects make a crucial contribution to preventing global warming by demonstrably saving greenhouse gas emissions or removing them from the atmosphere. This is done through forest protection, reforestation and the development of renewable energy or other forms of technology. CO2Compensation projects also promote sustainable development in their local countries, for example by improving the supply of clean drinking water or building local infrastructure, creating jobs or preserving biodiversity.

To be certified, a CO2The compensation project meets four criteria: additionality, exclusion of double counting, sustainability, and it must be regularly reviewed by an independent third party. Hardly anything in the field of sustainability and environmental protection is so strictly controlled: CO2Compensation projects are certified to internationally recognized standards and are regularly verified by independent validation and verification bodies (VVOs). Initiatives such as the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA) or the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM) work on quality guidelines such as Core Carbon Principles, which ensure CO2compensation through emission reduction certificates and generation of certificates.

The complex mechanisms of a CO2the compensation project must be clearly presented and easy to understand. Companies that follow this principle can use a project as an opportunity to make their commitment visible and, through real initiatives and effects, show what they are achieving by becoming climate neutral.

In some companies, marketing managers like to make the most of the promotional opportunities of climate action. This can lead to claims like ‘climate positive’, ‘CO2-free ‘,’ the first CO2-neutral supplier of X ‘or’ the first CO2-neutral product Y ‘. Such over-promoting claims often face criticism or even lawsuits.

Special attention is needed if the allegations are false. Statements such as “climate positive” or “CO2-free ”are wrong, for example, because it is not possible to produce a product without emitting greenhouse gases. Even climate-neutral products cause emissions that do not just disappear when compensated. Some marketers try to justify the claim “climate positive” with overcompensation, ie. by offsetting more emissions than they have caused. However, this is not durable and is not justified by any official standard or agreement.

It is important to be careful with statements that emphasize climate neutrality and use only verifiable terms. Ultimately, consumers do not want to feel that a company’s climate action is just advertising, but instead want to see some serious commitment.

A brand awarded by an external organization is more reliable than logos and requirements designed internally. It is crucial to place the brand on the product in such a way that it is easily visible and legible – as many manufacturers of branded goods and chains now do with their own brands – or, in the case of a CO2-neutral company or service, on their website and communications.

For example, the ClimatePartner brand is listed on independent portal sites, such as co2emissie Factors.nl from the Dutch government, Siegelklarheit.de, a portal for the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, bewusstkaufen.at in Austria or labelinfo.ch in Switzerland. It is therefore very recognizable in many sectors. On Amazon, products with certified labels automatically qualify for the Climate Pledge Friendly scheme, which lists them as sustainable products in the search results.

Ideally, the climate label provides access to more detailed information, as does ID tracking for the ClimatePartner label. The information includes which CO2the compensation project has been supported, how many emissions have been compensated, how the system limits have been set for the calculation of the emissions and what the validity period for CO2– neutrality. The purpose is to state precisely and clearly how climate neutrality has been achieved. Any move towards climate neutrality is clearly documented in the ClimatePartner Protocol. This way, people outside the company can see where CO2-neutral label stands for how the emissions are calculated and according to which criteria CO2compensation project must comply.

Image and video material of CO2compensation projects help to make a project, its technical operation and its impact understandable and tangible. For ClimatePartner projects, we also explain which SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) the project contributes.

The actual avoidance or reduction of CO2A company’s emissions through a product’s life cycle are the most important thing to showcase and make credible. This is an ongoing process in a company that requires a clear strategy and objectives, which are continuously reviewed and adjusted.

Maybe the packaging is made with a higher proportion of recycled content, which reduces product emissions by 15 percent? What further actions are planned? What are the next reduction targets? This information helps people understand the success of climate action in real terms.

Transparency is the most important issue when it comes to making communication about climate action credible. Companies need to reduce their CO2significantly reduce emissions and not just offset them. In short, the most effective communication focuses on the meaningful results your business has achieved for the climate.

Miriam Zagel, ClimatePartner

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