Theodora McCormick, Member of the Firm in the Litigation and Health Care & Life Sciences practices, in the firm’s Princeton and Newark offices, co-authored an article in Natural Products Insider, titled “The Legal and Reputational Risks Associated with Greenwashing.”

Following is an excerpt:

Sustainability is no longer just a nice-to-have feature of a product, particularly with younger consumers. According to McKinsey & Co., “When consumers are asked if they care about buying environmentally and ethically sustainable products, they overwhelmingly answer yes.” In fact, “More than 60% of respondents said they’d pay more for a product with sustainable packaging. See 2020 McKinsey U.S. consumer sentiment survey.

People are drawn to “eco-friendly” products that deem their purchase validated. Highlighting the efforts undertaken to make more sustainable choices and sell products that are environmentally friendly can help differentiate a company from the competition. However, if a firm makes false or misleading sustainability or environmentally friendly claims, the consequences can be significant — both in terms of legal exposure and reputational damage.

The term “greenwashing” refers to the phenomenon of companies advertising products as either sustainable or good for the environment when there is little to no evidence that the product actually has any environmental benefit. It doesn’t refer to one sustainability trend in particular but can affect all trends.

The Federal Trade Commission first offered guidance to industry on permissible sustainable claims with its “Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims” in 1992. The Green Guides — as they’re more commonly called — were designed to help companies avoid making deceptive environmental marketing claims under Section 5 of the FTC Act or other laws.

In addition to clarifying what can be advertised as “organic” or “recyclable,” the Green Guides influence state consumer protection laws. Maine, Minnesota, New York and Rhode Island have adopted the Green Guides to help define their own laws against fraudulent consumer marketing, and California has incorporated compliance with them as a valid defense for companies sued over their marketing.

The Green Guides are an important tool that can assist companies with establishing an honest and transparent sustainability marketing strategy. But they were last updated in 2012, and the past decade has seen substantial changes in sustainability and climate marketing.

FTC has initiated a review of the Green Guides and is expected to publish updates sometime later this year. These updates should address some of the thornier environmental marketing claims that the agency has not yet weighed in on, including claims regarding climate change, sustainability and what makes a product “eco-friendly.”

Jump to Page

Privacy Preference Center

When you visit any website, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. This information might be about you, your preferences or your device and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to. The information does not usually directly identify you, but it can give you a more personalized web experience. Because we respect your right to privacy, you can choose not to allow some types of cookies. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings. However, blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer.

Strictly Necessary Cookies

These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems. They are usually only set in response to actions made by you which amount to a request for services, such as setting your privacy preferences, logging in or filling in forms. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not then work. These cookies do not store any personally identifiable information.

Performance Cookies

These cookies allow us to count visits and traffic sources so we can measure and improve the performance of our site. They help us to know which pages are the most and least popular and see how visitors move around the site. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. If you do not allow these cookies we will not know when you have visited our site, and will not be able to monitor its performance.