Swiss cheesemaker accused of greenwashing in climate-neutral cheese debacle
The Swiss cheesemaker Tilsiter has been accused of “greenwashing” their product, after they advertised their cheese as CO2-neutral. Experts have argued that their claims are misleading and called on the international company to be more transparent when reporting the true climate cost of making cheese.
Swiss cheese claims to be climate neutral in new ads
In the summer of 2022, Tilsiter, one of the largest cheesemakers in Switzerland, announced that their customers could “enjoy [their cheese] with a clear conscience,” as their product and ads now include a new green label which declares the cheese a “CO2-neutral production”. "Tilsiter will be climate-neutral," they confirmed in a press release last May.
As cows are one of the biggest greenhouse gas polluters on the planet, experts were sceptical of the claim. When asked about the ad campaign, it was revealed that the company had performed some literary sleight of hand, defining “production” as the creation of the cheese itself, not the production of milk.
Tilsiter accused of greenwashing their cheese
“This claim is misleading. They promise people a clear conscience when eating cheese without changing anything fundamental in the dairy industry," argued WWF climate and business spokesperson Lene Petersen. The Tages-Anzeiger explained that the campaign is another example of “greenwashing,” where entrepreneurs and companies use misleading language to imply their product is climate-friendly without actually making any changes.
According to Matthias Stucki, a life cycle expert at the University of Applied Sciences in Zurich, 95 percent of emissions produced in cheesemaking are related to the production of milk. As Tilsiter ignored 95 percent of the environmental impact of cheese production, while also claiming to be CO2-neutral, he concluded that the ads did amount to "greenwashing."
Swiss cheese ad campaign highly misleading, experts say
In addition, further investigation by the Tages-Anzeiger found that not even the cheese production is CO2-neutral. In fact, only one of the 21 dairies used to make the famous cheese is actually climate-neutral - the Holzhof dairy in Canton Thurgau.
Salomé Gähwiler, head of CO2 management at Swiss Climate - the company that certified the dairy as carbon neutral - thought the half-truths in Tilsiter's advertising mislead consumers. "In our view, the advertising should at least have been marked with an asterisk to indicate that the emissions from milk production were not taken into account," she said.
In response, Tilsiter Variety president Sibylle Marti argued the campaign was transparent enough, noting, "On our website, you can find out that the phrase "climate-neutral production" applies to the cheese dairy and milk production cannot be included." She said that the company was proud of its CO2-neutral dairy and hopes to expand the programme to their other dairies in future.