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  • Writer's pictureDr. Edith Öller

The disadvantage of climate neutral

Hey! Climate neutral is good - isn't it?

More and more often we stumble upon the term “climate neutral” in company communication - in advertising, on packaging, on websites, in CSR reports, etc. Those who don't want to be yesterday's today can get “climate neutral” certification. Basically it works as follows:

The company creates a “carbon footprint” (usually with the help of a certification advisor or a certification body). The emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) are converted into tons of Co2 equivalent (tCO2e). Incidentally, there is no uniform certificate here, but different certifying bodies / institutes / consultants (including e.g. TÜV) - the basis is the PAS 2060 standard. Before this, the system limits are defined - i.e. what is precisely measured is defined. Should only one product be certified, one location, one organization etc. For a climate-neutral certification, the focus on Scope 1 & 2 emissions is sufficient. (See also: Back to basics - scope 1, 2, 3). In other words, mainly on direct emissions from the company's own facilities and vehicle fleet, as well as emissions from the generation of purchased energy for heating / cooling / electricity.

The largest part of the total emissions, the Scope 3 emissions, are usually not taken into account. These include all remaining emissions, e.g. from the production and transport of primary materials, from the construction of plants and buildings, from the entire distribution chain and the use and disposal of the product.

In the course of the certification, a Qualifying Explanatory Statement is also drawn up, which contains a strategy for reducing GHG. All (still) existing emissions within the observation area are then "neutralized" by purchasing carbon offsets. The result is a “climate neutral” certificate (as I said, unfortunately there is no standardized, but institute-related certificate). So here again in a fast run:

- Definition of the system boundaries (e.g. organization / product etc.)

- Creation of a carbon footprint

- Elaboration of a Qualifying Explanatory Statement (QES)

- Buying offsets

The process is then normally repeated annually, and the goal is to have to buy fewer offset certificates over time by reducing your own emissions in order to be “climate neutral”.

For the majority of service providers and producers (who work with primary materials) this means switching to e-mobility in the vehicle fleet & switching to renewable energies for electricity and heating - and a small part remains for offsets, done!

Basically, it is to be advocated that companies deal with their carbon footprint, and climate neutrality can be a good first step. Unfortunately, the disadvantage of climate neutral is that it is not really climate neutral. For the end consumer, “climate neutral” is simply misleading. The majority of the upstream and downstream emissions (Scope 3) are usually simply excluded - and according to data from the GHG Protocol, that is around 76%.

Therefore, all companies that really want to make a difference and want to stay ahead in the future should think further and expand their scope - even if it becomes more difficult to collect data here and, above all, to really make a difference. In Scope 3, value chains and networks must be thought of, the customer must be at the center, but above all the potential for real sustainable business model innovations lies here.


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