If you care about the environment, human health, and sustainability, you’re not alone. Sustainability is increasingly important to consumers (up 27% since 2019), and almost 40% of U.S. consumers say environmental sustainability impacts their food purchase decisions.1 Health is also a major consideration, leading consumers toward non-toxic products and propelling the clean beauty industry to $400 million in sales.2 Unfortunately, buying products that are safe for you and the planet can feel like an impossible task. Who has time to stand in Aisle 9 thoroughly researching the effects of cocamidopropyl betaine before picking a lotion? We usually rely on design cues and statements like “non-toxic,” “eco-friendly,” and “natural” instead. You know, that happy earth icon surrounded by large green text. Often, however, these product attributes are baseless marketing gimmicks.
What is greenwashing
Greenwashing is an advertising tactic that portrays products and services as more environmentally conscious, safe, or beneficial than they actually are. The term “greenwash” was originally coined in the 1980s to describe a marketing spin in the hospitality industry. Hotels were encouraging guests to reuse towels to cut down the hotel laundry bill but advertised this cost-saving practice as part of their supposed environmentally friendly agenda. Since then, the term “greenwash” has evolved to describe services, products, and business decisions that are environmentally neutral or harmful, despite their advertising.
For example, a body wash bottle might be presented to the consuming public as made with “sustainable packaging” when the truth is that only the cap can be recycled. A clothing brand might advertise “ethically-made” products despite over-producing and burning excess inventory. A sunscreen might falsely state “planet-friendly” while containing ingredients that kill marine life or fail to biodegrade. A sprayable glass cleaner could say “non-toxic” but produce fumes that make you sick when inhaled. These examples might sound exaggerated or far-fetched, but greenwashing is around us all the time. Household brands like H&M, Banana Boat, Canada Goose, Windex, and Rust-Oleum have been sued for greenwashing claims.
What’s wrong with greenwashing?
Greenwashing is harmful because it distorts our ability to make informed choices about what we value, how we live, and how we spend our money. Greenwashing manipulates our purchasing decisions. It distorts economic incentives. And it funds further pollution and climate degradation. By purchasing these products that are based on “white lies”, millions of well-meaning consumers unknowingly support the production of environmental toxins and pollution. The damage done by greenwashing is alarming in scope, from wasted resources in the manufacturing process to health and safety concerns for consumers. Meanwhile, companies rake in profits.
Class actions can fight greenwashing
One of Clarkson’s practice areas is false advertising class actions, which allow individual consumers to take action on behalf of their peers and hold corporations accountable for unfair business practices like greenwashing. This legal tool has two primary objectives. The first objective is to cease the unfair, unlawful, or fraudulent business practice – in this case, removing or remedying the false advertising in a way that corrects the deception. The second objective is to obtain financial restitution for consumers, reimbursing them for the money they spent as a result of the false advertising.
To illustrate, Clarkson represents consumers who alerted us that Krud Kutter cleaning products (made by Rust-Oleum) are misrepresented as “non-toxic” when in fact they contain toxins harmful to humans, pets, and the environment. Clarkson is also co-counsel in a line of greenwashing cases against the manufacturer of Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreens which are deceptively advertised as “reef-safe” despite containing chemicals that destroy coral reefs and the marine life that depend on reefs to survive. The dual goals of these public interest cases are to remove the deceptive label attributes from the marketplace and obtain compensation for the class of consumers who believed the false promises and spent money on products they wouldn’t have bought otherwise.
When we challenge greenwashing, we not only stop companies from deceiving consumers and unfairly profiting off that deception, but we encourage fair competition and innovation from companies who play by the rules and manufacture truly “non-toxic” and “reef-safe” products.
How you can fight greenwashing
Greenwashing is difficult to catch red-handed. Companies and marketers are often clever and subtle with their greenwashing claims. Astute consumers question everything and bring a healthy skepticism to their purchase decision-making. Speak up and reach out to us when a “green” claim seems off or too good to be true. If you’ve purchased a product based on a deceptive advertising claim or label attribute, then you may qualify to serve as a class representative. Even if the case involves a $2 product, it could involve millions of units sold, millions of other consumers, and millions of dollars at stake. You have the power to end the deception and obtain compensation for the entire class. Join us as we stand up to corporate interests that put profit ahead of a cleaner, healthier world. To learn more and join our movement, tell us your story and follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
 International Food Information Council. “2022 Food and Health Survey.” Last Accessed, September 8, 2022: https://foodinsight.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/IFIC-2022-Food-and-Health-Survey-Report-May-2022.pdf
 Mayo, Anna. “2030 Glow-up: The future of clean beauty.” NielsenIQ. October 2021. Last Accessed September 20, 2022. https://nielseniq.com/global/en/insights/analysis/2021/2030-glow-up-the-future-of-clean-beauty/