7 tips for climate communication
The German online retailer Bergfreunde.de has been named Germany's most environmentally conscious business in 2022 by Capital and Statista, resulting in a significant degree of media attention. Many other companies are also taking voluntary climate action and investing time and money in carbon neutral products – yet they are sometimes hesitant to communicate it because they fear to be criticised.
Bergfreunde.de is doing many things right: they continuously work on cutting their emissions and have offset their previously unavoidable emissions retrospectively. Right back to the founding of the company in 2006. The company has published an open and precise description of their climate action strategy on their website. In regular intervals, the managing directors release videos in which they speak about their initiatives in climate action and what difficulties they face.
Learn how communication about climate action can be successful. Here are seven useful tips.
1. Clarify the principles of carbon neutrality: calculate, reduce and offset carbon emissions
When carbon neutral products are criticised in the media, it is often because the principle of carbon neutrality is not fully understood or has not been communicated clearly enough. Therefore, explaining the principles of carbon neutrality is key. Companies, processes, and products whose emissions have been calculated, reduced as far as possible and offset through the support of internationally recognised carbon offset projects can be considered carbon neutral. In addition to avoiding and reducing emissions, offsetting emissions is an important part of a holistic climate action strategy.
We therefore recommend explaining the three steps of calculation, reduction and compensation, whenever carbon neutral products and services are mentioned.
2. Make it clear that carbon neutrality is always achieved through carbon offsetting
Carbon neutrality and offsetting is often misunderstood, with some critics suggesting that this step is deliberately concealed. It is important to note that products cannot be free of CO2 emissions and companies cannot do business without causing any emissions. False accusations can be avoided by making it clear that carbon neutrality was achieved by offsetting carbon emissions in a certified project.
It is even better if companies can demonstrate concrete emission reductions and present them in this context.
3. Explain the meaning of carbon offset projects
The effectiveness of carbon offset projects is often questioned. Carbon offset projects make a critical contribution to preventing global warming by demonstrably saving on greenhouse gas emissions or capturing them from the atmosphere. This happens through forest protection, reforestation as well as expanding renewable energy or other types of technology. Carbon offset projects also promote sustainable development in their local countries, for instance by improving the supply of clean drinking water or building local infrastructure, creating jobs, or conserving biodiversity.
For a carbon offset project to be certified, a project must meet four criteria: additionality, exclusion of double counting, permanence and it must be audited by an independent third party on a regular basis. Hardly anything in sustainability and environmental protection is monitored as strictly: carbon offset projects are certified according to internationally recognised standards and regularly verified by independent Validation and Verification Bodies (VVBs). 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 the Core Carbon Principles, which ensure CO2 offsetting through emission reduction certificates and the generation of certificates.
The complex mechanisms of a carbon offset project need to be presented clearly and be easy to understand. Businesses that follow this principle can use a project as an opportunity to make their commitment visible and show, using real measures and effects, what they achieve by becoming carbon neutral.
4. Ensure statements about climate action are correct and verifiable
In some companies marketing managers like to take full advantage of the promotional potential of climate action. This can lead to claims such as ‘climate positive’, ‘CO2 free’, ‘the first carbon neutral provider of X’ or ‘the first carbon neutral product Y’. Overly promotional claims like these are frequently met with criticism or even lawsuits.
Special attention is needed if the statements are false. For example, statements such as ‘climate positive’ or ‘CO2 free’ are incorrect because it is not possible to manufacture a product without releasing greenhouse gas emissions. Even carbon neutral products cause emissions that do not simply disappear once they are offset. Some marketers attempt to justify the claim ‘climate positive’ with overcompensation, i.e., by offsetting more emissions than they have caused. This, however, is neither tenable nor justified by any official standard or contract.
It is important to be cautious when it comes to making statements that advertise carbon neutrality, and to use only verifiable terms. Ultimately, consumers do not want to feel that a company’s climate action is only advertising but instead they want to see serious engagement.
5. Use an established climate label for carbon neutrality
A label assigned by an external third-party organisation is more trustworthy than logos and claims designed in-house. It is crucial to position the label on the product in a way that makes it easily visible and readable – as many manufacturers of branded products and chains now do with their own brands – or, in the case of a carbon neutral company or service, on their website and communication.
The ClimatePartner label, for example, is listed on independent portals, such as Siegelklarheit.de which is operated by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, co2emissiefactoren.nl, a portal of the Dutch Ministry of the Environment, bewusstkaufen.at in Austria or labelinfo.ch in Switzerland. It is therefore highly recognisable in many sectors. On Amazon, products with certified labels automatically qualify for the Climate Pledge Friendly scheme, which means they are displayed in search results as sustainable products.
6. Provide transparent and trackable information about your climate action initiatives and the carbon offset projects
Ideally, the climate label provides access to more detailed information such as the ID tracking does for the ClimatePartner label. The information includes what carbon offset project has been supported, how many emissions have been offset, how the system boundaries were set for the calculation of emissions and what the validity period of the carbon neutrality is. The goal is to be precise and clear about how carbon neutrality has been achieved. Every step on the path to carbon neutrality is documented clearly in the ClimatePartner Protocol. This way, people outside the company can see what the carbon neutral label stands for, how emissions are calculated and what criteria the carbon offset project must meet.
Image and video material of the carbon offset projects help to make a project, its technical function and its impact easy to understand and tangible. For ClimatePartner projects, we also explain which SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) the project is contributing to.
7. Illustrate how emissions are being reduced
The actual avoidance or reduction of a company’s CO2 emissions throughout the lifecycle of a product is the most important to showcase and give credibility. This is a continuous process within a company that requires a clear strategy and goals which are reviewed and adjusted on a regular basis.
Perhaps the packaging has been manufactured with a larger proportion of recycled material, resulting in a 15 percent reduction of the product’s emissions? What further actions are planned? What are the next reduction targets? This information helps people understand the success of climate action in real terms.
Transparent climate action communication is everything
Transparency is the most important topic when it comes to making climate action communication credible. Companies need to reduce CO2 emissions significantly and not only offset. In short, the most effective communication focuses on the meaningful results your company has achieved for the climate.