Why is it so difficult to understand the climate claims companies make?

We’re told companies have a big job to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But misleading climate labels, claims, and marketing are so common that people have lost confidence in them. There’s no way to know which companies to support and which ones to doubt.
In the world of corporate climate action, everyone is speaking a different language.

Climate claims should mean something.

Voluntary certifications and labels make companies more accountable. We rely on familiar labels for everything—from skyscrapers to organic food. But with climate change, it’s anybody’s guess whether one net-zero claim is better than the next carbon positive promise. So let’s break it down.

Part 1: The Pledge

A pledge sets the tone. Sure, it’s great to aim for the stars. We all love ambition. But it’s not the whole story. Hopes and dreams are not a strategy.

What is the company promising to do, and by when?

Part 2: The Investment

Solving climate change takes real money. To believe the vision, you must also see cold hard cash on the table. Starting now.

How much money is the company investing  to make their climate dream a reality?

Part 3: The Action

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. If a company can’t describe that first step in glorious detail, chances are they won’t make it the rest of the way. Rubber, meet road.

What steps will the company take this year to cut emissions?

Part 4: The Message

You deserve the whole truth. Claims of environmental leadership shouldn’t be confusing, flowery, or leave you scratching your head.

Do you understand what the company says about its climate work, and does it match reality?

Icon of a speech bubble

It’s time for the FTC to squash greenwashing.

It turns out, regulators worldwide are tuning into the need to improve climate marketing. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is updating its Green Guides, which act as a guidebook to making sound marketing claims. This update is the first in decades—and it’s overdue. Climate Neutral believes the 2023 modifications should provide clear, strong guidance on how to make credible climate claims. Here’s our quick take on how the FTC should structure its guidance:

Encourage high action and integrity

Marketers must tell it like it is. Don’t overplay the benefits of small actions, and be sure to put things in context. Acknowledge the full range of the company’s emissions (Scopes 1, 2, and 3) when describing impacts and initiatives. Don’t make claims about single products or product lines that suggest company-wide actions. And don’t pin your claims on pledges, targets, or future goals that haven’t been achieved yet and aren’t backed by demonstrable financial commitments.

Discourage vague and misleading language

Avoid unqualified claims such as “climate smart” or “climate friendly”. Steer clear of words like “sustainable” as catch-all descriptors. Stick to claims, and look for supporting certifications, that credibly verify value chain emissions from making and delivering products/services have been addressed via reductions, renewable electricity, or verified carbon credits.

Adopt common definitions for technical concepts

The United Nations have clearly defined most climate phrases like “net-zero” and “climate neutral”. These definitions offer an opportunity to standardize the language used in claims. Avoid twisting the meaning of phrases and terms to suit the marketing purpose, because it will lead to confusion.

Be clear about clean energy and carbon offsets

Clean energy claims should reflect the true extent of the impact. For example, a large company with a wind-powered headquarters cannot claim to be “powered by 100% carbon free energy” because it ignores the full scope of operations. Tie clean energy purchases to high integrity standards. Carbon offset claims should be connected to offsets that are permanent, additional, verifiable, enforceable, real, and endorsed by a third party standard.  Base ecosystem claims, such as tree planting, on competent and reliable scientific methods.

Deceptive claims do not belong in this decisive decade.

If fuzzy claims face no consequences, the bar drops for all companies. What issues matter to you? Share your thoughts with us, or directly with the FTC. You may also view the comments we submitted to the FTC here.