UTRECHT, THE NETHERLANDS — BEUC, a European consumer organization, is asking the European Union to ban the use of carbon-neutral claims for all products, including food and drink products. The claims mislead consumers and are scientifically inaccurate, according to the BEUC.

“There is no such thing as a ‘CO2 neutral’ banana or plastic water bottle,” said Monique Goyens, director general of the BEUC. “Carbon-neutral claims are greenwashing, pure and simple. It’s a smoke screen giving the impression companies are taking serious immediate action on their climate impact. The truth is they are delaying action for many years by ‘compensating’ their carbon emissions instead.

“Planting trees that will take decades to grow is far easier and cheaper, yet significantly less effective, than cutting emissions from their current climate-harmful activities.”

The BEUC takes issue with carbon offsetting, which helps companies in their efforts to reach carbon neutrality. Carbon offsetting allows companies to pay for carbon credits from offsetting projects to balance out the companies’ own carbon-emitting activities.

The BEUC includes 11 consumer groups from 10 countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

The Climate Neutral Group, Utrecht, includes carbon offsetting as a way to help companies achieve carbon neutrality. A carbon credit represents a reduction or removal of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere through a carbon offset, also called a compensation project, according to the Climate Neutral Group. Every credit represents a reduction of one ton of CO2 in the atmosphere.

By investing in carbon offsets, companies take responsibility for emissions they have yet to reduce or avoid, according to the Climate Neutral Group, which added companies should prioritize reducing their own emissions first.

“Offsetting is a legitimate working mechanism that helps companies meet their targets,” the Climate Neutral Group said in a white paper. “However, compensating for your emissions always needs to happen in conjunction with reduction: It should not be a free pass to just continue emitting.”

Carbon-neutral claims have drawn attention in the United States, too.

A survey from Morning Consult conducted last July among 2,310 adults found 52% said they had not seen a carbon-neutral label while 41% correctly identified the term after being given three options.

A class-action lawsuit against Danone Waters of North America, a business of Danone SA, was filed Oct. 13, 2022, in US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The lawsuit took issue with a carbon-neutral claim on packaging and labeling for Evian, a Danone brand. Reasonable consumers seeing the labeling and packaging would believe the manufacturing of Evian products is sustainable and does not leave a carbon footprint, according to the lawsuit.