“Greenwashing”: The New False Advertising

In a marketplace increasingly populated by environmentally conscious consumers, companies have been adapting by offering “greener” products. Unfortunately, many companies are misrepresenting or exaggerating the eco-friendly nature of their wares, a form of false advertising that has become known as “greenwashing.”

On June 9, 2009, M. Scot Case, Vice President of TerraChoice Group, Inc., and Executive Director of the company’s EcoLogo Program, gave testimony before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. Terrachoice holds itself out as “North America’s premier environmental marketing agency.” In his sworn statement, entitled “It’s Too Easy Being Green: Defining Fair Green Marketing Practices,” Mr. Case frankly told the subcommittee: “[G]reen products sold in the United States are routinely marketed with partial truths, misleading and irrelevant information, and the occasional blatant lie.” And he went on to more fully indict the entire green marketing culture here in the U.S.: “The current system is not working: Greenwashing is rampant. FTC is not equipped to define green. The United States lacks a single, unifying environmental label to make “buying green” easy for U.S. consumers.” Mr. Case outlined what he believes are the “Seven Sins of Greenwashing” and offered the subcommittee a series of recommendations for resolving the problem.

On the legal landscape, the greenwashing problem has translated into an apparent increase in consumer litigation aimed at companies that allegedly have been misleading in their green advertising. In January, a California appeals court held that false advertising claim against Honda, alleging that it misrepresented the fuel efficiency of its 2004 Civic Hybrid, could go forward. In February, a group of six state and national environmental and health groups brought suit in New York state court against the makers of Tide, Ajax, and other household cleaners and solvents, seeking to have the companies reveal the chemicals used in their products. And in March, a California consumer brought a proposed a class action against SC Johnson & Son, Inc., claiming that the company has misled consumers as to the environmental friendliness of its glass cleaner, Windex.

Check out Tresa Baldas’ recent story in the National Law Journal and check out these websites to learn more about green products and green marketing practices: http://sinsofgreenwashing.org/, http://www.stopgreenwashing.org/.