Arguments Used to Sue Corporations for Greenwashing
Greenwashing is a form of deceptive marketing in which a company is falsely or excessively promoted as being environmentally friendly. The fossil fuel industry has a history of running public disinformation campaigns and has lobbied against efforts to address climate change for decades. Therefore, it is not a surprise that fossil fuel companies continue to try to mislead the public by running ads that greatly exaggerate the degree to which they are investing in clean forms of energy, while in reality the vast majority of their investment goes to increasing fossil fuel production.
Luckily, there are rules against false and misleading advertising. If you see an advertisement by a carbon major like ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, or Shell touting the companies “green” and clean energy initiatives, get in touch with an organization that has experience litigating greenwashing cases.
Greenwashing complaints are the low-hanging fruit of the climate litigation world: most are resolved before making it to court. “Greenwashing complaints are cheaper, faster, and more successful at raising awareness among the general public, so they’re very clever.” “Liability cases can go on for decades and get incredibly complicated, whereas it’s easy for people to connect to the concept of being cheated.”
Note: This is part of a series on arguments that can be used in climate litigation. For more articles in this series, see the arguments series.
For another great resource on this topic, check out the Action 4 Justice Climate Litigation Guide
Examples of Greenwashing Cases
- OECD Guidelines (Applicable in 49 countries (see page 80), each of which has a National Point of Contact. Example: ClientEarth v. BP
- Federal Trade Commission "Green Guides" (United States). Example: FTC complaint against Chevron
- Consumer Protection Laws (United States). Examples: Beyond Pesticides v. ExxonMobil
- Dutch Advertising Code Authority ruling against Shell and Exxon
Organizations that have brought greenwashing cases
- Friends of the Earth Europe
- Richman Law and Policy - United States
- Verbied Fossiele Reclame - Netherlands
- Zentrale zur Bekämpfung unlauteren Wettbewerbs e.V. - Complaint form
- The Greenwashing Files - ClientEarth