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Greenwashing verdict: VKI wins proceedings against Brau Union

The Association for Consumer Information (VKI) had sued Brau Union Österreich AG (Brau Union) on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs because of an advertisement for Gösser beer. Brau Union advertised the beer it produces and sells both on the packaging and in TV commercials with slogans such as "CO2-neutral brewed", "We have been brewing 2015% CO100-neutral since 2" or "100% of the energy required for the brewing process come from renewable energies”. According to the legal opinion of the VKI, this advertising is misleading. The regional court (LG) Linz has now confirmed the assessment of the VKI. The judgment is not final.

In March 2021, the Greenwashing Check project started, in which the VKI makes it its task to scrutinize green promises made by companies, labels and products. At the beginning of 2022, the VKI came across an advertisement from Brau Union, according to which Gösser beer was brewed 100 percent CO2-neutral. On closer inspection, however, it turned out that upstream and downstream production processes, in particular the energy-intensive process of malting, were not part of the calculation.

According to the VKI, consumers usually understand “brewing” to mean the entire production process of the beer (from the harvest). Brau Union saw things differently, taking the view that malting was technically not part of the brewing process, but only meant the processing of water, hops and malt.

In June 2022, the VKI filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs. In the proceedings, it was disputed whether the brewing process also included the production of malt necessary for beer production. Because the Brau Union or the Göss brewery do not produce the malt themselves, but buy it from malt houses or have it produced by them. The heat required for this is mainly obtained from natural gas. “The production of the malt is not Co2-neutral. Malting causes a significant part of the CO2 pollution that occurs during the brewing process, namely around 30 percent," adds Dr. Barbara Bauer, responsible lawyer at the VKI.

The LG Linz now agreed with the VKI: Even if the malting in the technical sense is not part of the brewing process, consumers who are averagely informed and reasonable would not make a precise distinction. The court charged the Brau Union in particular with the fact that the explanation of the brewing process on the Gösser homepage, malting is even explicitly presented as part of the brewing process.

“We welcome all entrepreneurial ambitions and contributions to climate protection and, of course, those of Gösser as well. Nevertheless, it is important to create awareness for clear and transparent communication in this area. The trend of advertising indiscriminately with environment-related terms and thus increasingly watering them down must be counteracted," explains Dr. Barbara Bauer.

The court did not confirm the VKI's legal opinion that highlighting individual CO2-neutral production steps is always misleading if they are not placed in relation to the overall climate impact caused by the product. For this Dr. Barbara Bauer: “At the end of the day, the CO2 footprint caused by the product as a whole is decisive for climate protection. Therefore, this is also the key indicator for assessing the climate friendliness of a product, without which consumers cannot get a realistic picture.” The VKI has appealed on this point.

Brau Union appealed the verdict in its entirety.

Photo / Video: Brian Yurasits on Unsplash.

Written by Option

Option is an idealistic, fully independent and global social media platform on sustainability and civil society, founded in 2014 by Helmut Melzer. Together we show positive alternatives in all areas and support meaningful innovations and forward-looking ideas - constructive-critical, optimistic, down to earth. The option community is dedicated exclusively to relevant news and documents the significant progress made by our society.

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