Can a product be "climate neutral"?

The life cycle of a product leads to a net release of greenhouse gases throughout its supply chain. CarbonCloud's stance is that the product should not be labelled “climate neutral” even if the emissions are compensated with carbon offsets.

Who takes the credit?

This is the second question we need to ask. In the business of carbon offsetting, it is not unusual that more than one party takes credit for the same action, resulting in deceptive bookkeeping. Take the following example: trees are planted in Uganda as a carbon offsetting project. Company X buys the carbon offsets and label their products as “climate neutral”. This means that company X takes credit for removing greenhouse gases. However, it is not unlikely that Uganda also accounts for this tree planting in the national inventories of greenhouse gas emissions. In this case, the action is double-counted.

Let’s take another example. A wind farm is built in Brazil. A company buys carbon offsets on the assumption that electricity replaces coal power. Avoiding double counting means that Brazil will have to assume that the electricity produced comes from coal power, although it actually comes from wind. This does not lie in the interest of Brazil, which has targets to reach under the Paris agreement. With a certain amount of sold carbon offsetting credits, Brazil could end up in a situation where they have only renewable energy in reality but would need to keep on reporting as if they had only coal power since they have sold the right for the emission reductions to other parties.

The negotiations of the Paris agreement showcase how difficult it is to agree on rules to avoid double counting. Reaching our climate targets requires that we BOTH reduce emissions in all countries around the world AND remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, for instance by planting trees. Double counting blurs our vision and makes it harder to keep track of what remains to be done.

If we look specifically at the food industry, we see that it is currently responsible for about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC, 2014). To fulfill the Paris agreement and stop climate change, the industry still needs to reduce their emissions, even if the remaining 75% from other industries shrinks to zero! Crediting the food industry with reductions in other sectors cannot be the solution and such claims have the risk of delaying real and effective measures.

What do we suggest?

There are technologies that you could argue actually work. One example is direct air capture, i.e. facilities that capture carbon dioxide from the air and storing it below ground. It is a technology with a high probability of giving the intended results as it is highly unlikely that the carbon dioxide will escape underground storage. It is a costly technology with no other positive side effects. Therefore, it can be “additional” since it will not exist unless someone pays for it. There are other climate compensation technologies that are arguably effective and we cheer any engagement in such projects. Nevertheless, our basic appeal is this: The most effective way to put a stop to climate change as a food producer is to discover your precise climate footprint (and consequently take actions to lower it) and communicate it to your customers without smokescreen. CarbonCloud is here to help!


Cames, M., Harthan, R. O., Füssler, J., Lazarus, M., Lee, C., Erickson, P., & Spalding-Fecher, R. (2016). How additional is the clean development mechanismAnalysis of application of current tools and proposed alternatives. Oeko-Institut EV CLlMA. B3.

IPCC. (2014). Mitigation of climate changeContribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change1454.