When Brazil nuts (should) make heating oil climate neutral, or: The days of “greenwashing” are numbered



published on 23 May 2023 | Reading time approx. 2 minutes


The days of “green-washing” are probably numbered even without additional require­ments from Europe. A recent ruling confirms that anyone claiming a certain environ­mental property for themselves, or their products is already obliged to provide infor­mation on the basic circumstances justifying this classi­fication.

One should certainly have been alert to this within the company. A multinational energy and petroleum company advertised its heating oil in Germany as “CO2 compensated heating oil” and explained among other things: “The CO2 emitted during combustion is compensated elsewhere with the help of climate protection projects in the same amount. Thus, you keep the burden on the environment as low as possible and can make your heating oil requirements climate neutral.” At first, consumer protection groups objected to this, and then, in March of this year, the Regional Court in Düsseldorf.

The judges wrote the following into the company's record: It “remains largely unclear how greenhouse gases are to be demonstrably saved by supporting 400 families in the sustainable cultivation of Brazil nuts in an area that has been threatened in recent years by illegal clearing in some cases”. The court went on to say that in the end it only refers to the fact that forest protection means climate protection, which is not wrong; however, it does not allow “robust causality considerations between the climate protection project and concrete ‘savings’ of greenhouse gases to become apparent”.

In the final judgement of 24 March 2023 (Case No. 38 O 92/22), the Düsseldorf Regional Court emphasized “that commercial communication which deals with issues of importance to the public must in turn face the public discourse and be critically questioned by persons, organizations or competitors who have more time and expertise to do so than an individual consumer”. It is therefore justified to impose on anyone “who claims a certain environmental property for himself or his products an obligation to provide information on fundamental circumstances justifying this classification”.

Unfortunately, the heating oil company is in “good company”. According to a recent study by the EU Com­mis­sion, 53,3 per cent of the environmental claims examined in the EU were judged to be vague, misleading or unfounded. The verdict of the Düsseldorf Regional Court confirms again that the days of “greenwashing” are probably numbered, even without additional requirements from Europe.

Rödl & Partner supports implementation

Rödl & Partner advises companies, municipalities and energy suppliers on all relevant issues relating to ESG and CSR. In addition to support in the revision of corporate processes, we offer legal advice in all relevant areas. Our interdisciplinary teams are available to answer questions on reporting obligations but are also happy to support you in making your own contribution to climate protection, for example in the field of renewable energies.

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