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German court rules against 'climate neutral' fruit gum ad

June 27, 2024

A German court has ruled against Katjes' 'climate neutral' fruit gum ad for misleading claims. The decision highlights the need for transparent explanations in environmental advertising.

Katjes fruit gums
The production of the fruit gums was not climate neutral but the firm did finance climate friendly projectsImage: Sebastian Kahnert/dpa/picture alliance

The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in Karlsruhe on Thursday ruled that companies cannot advertise products as climate-friendly without also explaining why.

The case was brought by a German competition watchdog, which considered a fruit gum advert to be misleading.

Why was the case filed?

The Frankfurt-based Central Office for Combating Unfair Competition brought the case against confectionery manufacturer Katjes over an advertisement that appeared in a food industry trade magazine in 2021.

It said: "Since 2021, Katjes has been producing all products in a climate-neutral manner."

The production of the fruit gums themselves was not climate-neutral. However, Katjes compensated for the emissions by supporting climate protection projects, which the competition authority considered to be misleading.

What did the court say?

While the fruit gum pack showed the web address and a QR code link to Katjes' partner company that provided information about the scheme, the court deemed that this was not enough.

Presiding judge Thomas Koch observed that the risk of misleading advertising was particularly high in environment-related promotions.

Greenwashing on a grand scale?

If an ambiguous term such as "climate neutral" is used, the ruling said, this must be explained in the advertising itself. 

"Explanatory information outside of environmentally-related advertising is not sufficient in this respect," the decision said.

"An explanation of the term 'climate neutral' was necessary here in particular because the reduction and compensation of CO2 emissions are not equivalent measures for achieving climate neutrality."

"Reduction takes priority over compensation from the point of view of climate protection."

How was the decision greeted?

Reiner Münker, the chief executive of the competition authority, voiced satisfaction with the decision.

All manufacturers must comply, he said — "this applies across all sectors." Münker also pointed out that stricter European Union rules are already "on the horizon." 

In January, the European Parliament passed a law on so-called "greenwashing."

Under the legislation, slogans such as "environmentally friendly," "climate neutral" or "biodegradable" should no longer be printed on products without reliable evidence.

Katjes' environment associate ClimatePartner on Thursday said it had already introduced new labels and would no longer offer the "climate neutral" label. 

It added that, regardless of the BGH ruling, it was also keeping an eye on the upcoming EU regulations. 

"Our goal is to motivate as many companies as possible to protect the climate in the future," ClimatePartner continued.

rc/kb (AFP, dpa)