Climate Protection: Glossary of Greenwashing (c’t)

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c’t Editorial, issue 23, October 2022, translated with kind approval for c’t by Heise Medien GmbH & Co. KG, Hannover Germany

Original (German) article on the c’t Website at

Illustration by Hans-Jürgen Marhenke (loaded directly from and linked to the website)

Climate Protection: Glossary of Greenwashing

It’s not easy for anyone who wants to find out how green the big tech companies really are. “CO2-neutral since 2007, CO2-free by 2030” is the title of Google on its sustainability website. Sounds kind of illogical. At least too good to be true. Similarly idiotic at Apple: “We have been CO2-neutral since 2020. And by 2030 each of our products will be too.”

So we dug through the environmental reports from Apple, Google,etc and deciphered what they really mean when they promise carbon neutrality and the like. To save you this trouble, here is a small greenwashing glossary:

CO2-free, CO2-neutral, climate-neutral, net zero: You might think that such terms mean that a company or a product does not cause any greenhouse gases. Not even close. By this, the tech industry means that they are happily continuing to blow CO2 into the air. The main thing is that the emissions are offset by purchasing certificates. However, this does not help much in the fight against climate change, because in order to stop it, humanity must drastically reduce its emissions.

Carbon-free energy: Not to be confused with renewable energy. Google, for example, also counts “advanced nuclear energy” among the zero-carbon energy sources.

Renewable energy: When Big Tech talks about it, you have to look carefully. Sometimes only the purchase of dirt-cheap certificates for hydroelectric power plants is meant, sometimes long-term purchase agreements that contribute to the construction of wind and solar systems. But even if Google & Co. advertise “100 percent renewable energy”, they still buy dirty electricity. For example at night and in countries where there is simply not enough green electricity. After all, some of the data centers of the tech giants consume as much electricity as a large German city.

If the greenwashing gibberish annoys you, take action: Call on the corporations on social media to reduce their emissions. In fact, in 2021 each of the big five (Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta and Microsoft) put more CO2 into the atmosphere than in the previous year, as our article on page 118 shows.

Christian Wölbert

From the Article:

 ↓  CO2 emissions increased sharply
 ↓  Unambitious climate target

 ↑ Extensive database
 ↓  Generous definition of green electricity

 ↑ Ambitious green electricity target
 ↓  Questionable advertising (“CO2-neutral”)

 → Moderate ambition for green electricity
 ↓   Strong increase in emissions

 ↑ Ambitious green electricity target
 ↓  Strong CO2 increase in 2021

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