There are a lot of companies out there that like to talk about their commitment to sustainability and being environmentally friendly. However, not all of these companies actually walk the walk. In fact, some have been caught greenwashing, which is when a company tries to make themselves look more environmentally responsible than they actually are.
Unfortunately for these businesses, false advertising can often lead to lawsuits. In this blog post, we will discuss five brands that were sued for greenwashing in recent years.
The Coca-Cola Company
In 2021, several environmental groups sued the Coca-Cola Company for making false and misleading statements about its products' environmental benefits. The lawsuit alleged that Coca-Cola was using labels such as “ocean-bound,” “environmentally friendly,” and “recyclable” to appeal to consumers who were looking for more sustainable options when in reality, none of those things were true.
Coca-Cola has also come under fire for marketing single-use plastic bottles as an environmentally responsible choice when in fact these containers are responsible for significant amounts of plastic waste that end up polluting oceans and rivers. And while Coca-Cola said that they are working toward limiting single-plastic use, research shows that the conglomerate’s virgin plastic use between 2019 and 2021 actually spiked by almost 100,000 metric tons.
Ironically, the company is one of the sponsors of the 2022 COP27 climate conference in Egypt.
Keurig claims that their coffee pods are recyclable and biodegradable, but investigations revealed that they are not. In fact, many local recycling centers do not accept these pods.
In November 2018, a group of environmental advocates in California sued Keurig for allegedly deceiving consumers about the sustainability of their products. The plaintiffs argued that Keurig's claims were false and misleading since recycling the coffee pods is neither widespread nor economical.
After four laborious years of legal battles — and numerous appeals from Keurig to dismiss the case — the coffee company announced in 2022 that it had reached a settlement with the plaintiff, the details of which are private.
American household company Hefty faced a greenwashing class action suit in 2021. According to the lawsuit, Hefty had portrayed their recycling bags as being recyclable when they are anything but. The bags are made from low-density polyethylene plastic (LDPE or No. 4 plastic), a material that most municipal recycling facilities in the United States are not equipped to recycle. What’s more, when LDPE is incinerated, it releases large quantities of toxic air emissions and greenhouse gasses, dealing more harm to the environment.
Unlike other trials that drag on for ages, however, this case against Hefty didn’t. In August 2022, the plaintiff suddenly dropped the complaint without expounding on why they did so. This was a surprising turn of events, as just days before, the plaintiff had succeeded in seeking an injunction blocking the sales of the bags.
Burt’s Bees is facing a class action lawsuit because of alleged unsafe chemicals present in its cosmetic products. Daniela Gruen, the main plaintiff, is claiming that while Burt's Bees products are advertised as “over 95% natural origin,” these contain hazardous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they stay in the body and cannot be broken down or destroyed. They are associated with significant health risks like cancer, impaired fertility, and liver damage, as well as a heightened risk of asthma and thyroid disease. Gruen notes that Burt's Bees’ website and product labels fail to mention PFAS or its effects, thus deliberately keeping customers unaware that the products contain these toxic chemicals.
Also, according to her, if the public had known about these dangerous ingredients in Burt’s Bees products, no reasonable consumer would have paid for them — or at least not as much. She is therefore seeking compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages for her and other customers misled by the company’s purported greenwashing schemes.
False advertising is just one of the many things that can drive people to go to court. If you ever find yourself needing to pay a visit to the courthouse because of a family or personal injury case, or if you simply need legal help, reach out to our experienced team at Buckingham, LaGrandeur, and Williams. Contact us today.