As shopper curiosity in local weather change and sustainability continues to evolve, a rise in “greenwashing” claims directed in direction of vogue retailers has generated a collection of headline-grabbing lawsuits. Over the past yr, the style business has turn out to be a goal of shopper class motion, in addition to state and federal investigations, for sustainability representations by main vogue retailers. This pattern is more likely to proceed as increasingly more shoppers turn out to be environmentally acutely aware—demanding extra eco-friendly merchandise and sustainable enterprise practices, thus creating a necessity for companies to extend sustainability efforts or lose out on market share.
Background. Lately, “greenwashing” claims have taken many alternative roles—however at their core stay claims of fraud, false commercial and fraudulent misrepresentation. Plaintiffs’ attorneys in search of the monetary windfalls of enormous class motion settlements or jury awards goal giant and well-known retailers with such fraud allegations. As additional mentioned beneath, international firms akin to H&M are a well-liked goal due to their prominence within the retail market, in addition to the European Union’s extra energetic pursuit on environmental sustainability.
“Greenwashing” claims are alleged mostly when a retailer makes a public assertion, commercial, or product labeling that embrace sustainability representations designed to enchantment to environmentally acutely aware shoppers. “Greenwashing” throughout the vogue business has been mostly noticed with firms that make affirmative statements concerning their “sustainability” efforts and with firms that publicize or label their merchandise utilizing focused buzzwords, together with, however not restricted to, “eco-friendly,” “recycled,” “natural,” “pure,” and “sustainable”—so-called “greenwashed merchandise.”
Up to now, “greenwashing” litigation has been most prevalent in California on account of California’s plaintiff-friendly shopper safety legal guidelines—introduced beneath violations of California Unfair Competitors Legislation, Customers Authorized Cures Acts, False Promoting Legal guidelines, and different frequent legislation fraud claims. Nevertheless, as “greenwashing” litigation turns into extra widespread, different states ought to see a rise in related varieties of lawsuits—as not too long ago noticed in New York and Missouri.
Vogue-Associated Lawsuits. Commodore v. H&M (NY)one was the primary putative class motion introduced in opposition to Swedish vogue large H&M over its use of Higg Sustainability labels on clothes. Plaintiffs claimed that H&M used Higg scorecards to justify charging premium costs for its “sustainably-made” clothes—generally known as the H&M Aware Assortment—arguing that such merchandise are “no extra sustainable than gadgets in [H&M’s] principal assortment, that are additionally not sustainable.” The allegations on this lawsuit exemplify the potential pitfalls of constructing unverified sustainability and “eco-friendly” representations can lead. Moreover, H&M made these sustainability claims particularly and instantly, displaying them on their merchandise by publishing “environmental scorecards” and “eco-friendly” tags. Though this case is in its early levels of litigation, the court docket has set the briefing schedule for H&M’s movement to dismiss for February 23, 2023. Whereas it’s but unknown exactly how H&M might transfer on the plaintiff’s argument, as with different false-advertising claims, H&M’s finest protection would be the fact—and pointing to publicly out there information and information supporting its “sustainably-made” clothes line needs to be sufficient for a fast dismissal.
lizama v. H&M (MO)2 marks the second putative class motion in opposition to H&M, equally alleging that “H&M’s representations that [its] Merchandise are a “Aware Alternative,” extra “sustainable,” and environmentally pleasant…” are “false and deceptive representations.” Notably, this case not solely included the everyday “greenwashing” causes of motion (false promoting, misleading acts and practices, unjust enrichment, and so forth.), but additionally included 5 counts of Violation of Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA). On December 6, 2022, H&M filed a movement to dismiss, arguing plaintiffs didn’t plead ample information alleging false promoting associated to the H&M Aware Assortment. Extra particularly, H&M’s movement argues that H&M is merely making comparative claims that its product supplies are “extra sustainable” than their common clothes line, and since H&M is utilizing comparative language, an affordable shopper wouldn’t be deceived that the clothes was absolutely sustainable or extra sustainable than its rivals. Moreover, H&M argues that plaintiffs haven’t suffered any loss as a result of the shoppers bought the clothes from the Aware Assortment, and the garments had been, in truth, part of that assortment. Up to now, no response or court docket order has been filed.
Examples of latest “greenwashing” fashion-related litigation dismissals embrace Lin v. Canada Goose3, a category motion filed in New York, the place plaintiffs alleged a number of violations of NY Normal Enterprise Legislation and customary legislation primarily based on Canada Goose’s advertising and marketing and promoting of its fur as sustainable and sure environmental claims. Extra particularly, plaintiffs name out Canada Goose’s representations that “[t]he Canada Goose Fur Transparency StandardTM is our dedication to assist the moral, accountable, and sustainable sourcing and use of actual fur” and “[t]he normal certifies that we by no means buy fur from fur farms, by no means use fur from endangered animals, and solely buy fur from licensed North American trappers strictly regulated by state, provincial and federal requirements.” On November 14, 2022, the court docket dismissed the grievance in its entirety, whereas not particularly addressing any of Canada Goose’s environmental claims, as a result of the grievance alleged a number of misrepresentations beneath the NY statutes, which the plaintiffs didn’t adequately plead.
Equally, Dwyer v. allbirds4, a category motion filed in New York, evidences how suitability representations concerning product life-cycle might result in “greenwashing” claims. On this case, plaintiffs alleged Allbirds was making false statements concerning the environmental affect of its wool footwear as described utilizing a life-cycle evaluation instrument to estimate the product’s carbon footprint and its sustainability index. Extra particularly, plaintiffs attacking Allbirds’ illustration that “the common footprint of [Allbirds’] merchandise is 7.6 kg CO2e” and about them working “with main organizations like ZQ Merino to make sure our wool is held to excessive requirements of farming, land administration and animal welfare.” On April 21, 2022, the court docket dismissed the grievance, reasoning that Allbirds’ statements concerning its use of metrics had been factually correct and wouldn’t mislead an affordable shopper. Notably, the court docket declined to second-guess the standard of the metrics themselves.
Takeaways. One of many classes to be taken from these fashion-related “greenwashing” lawsuits is that every one vogue manufacturers ought to take into account tightening up the language of their advertising and marketing efforts used round sustainability, particularly if they’re making very particular claims. As well as, firms ought to keep away from wide-sweeping, broad statements about their sustainability efforts and keep away from labeling merchandise as “sustainable” with out concrete proof and unbiased verification. Like all claims for misrepresentation, the reality is the perfect protection. Earlier than making any representations and labeling merchandise, companies ought to goal to conduct diligent research and investigations—higher capable of assist their sustainability statements with concrete agency information, thus turning into higher capable of neutralize and defend the “greenwashing” claims that at the moment are flooding the US litigation panorama.
one Commodore et al v. H&MCase No. 7:22-cv-06247 (SDNY July 22, 2022).
2 Lizama et al v. H&MNo. 4:22-cv-01170 (ED Mo. Nov. 3, 2022).
3 Lin v. Canada Goose US, No. 1:21-cv-07614 (SDNY Sept. 12, 2021).
4 Dwyer v. Allbirds, Inc., No. 7:21-cv-05238 (SDNY June 13, 2021).