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Establishing Credibility and Avoiding Greenwash - A Legal Perspective

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Presentation on the laws regarding environmental marketing communications, the FTC green guides, and more from Brooks Beard.

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Establishing Credibility and Avoiding Greenwash - A Legal Perspective

  1. 1. Establishing Credibility, Avoiding Greenwashing! Brooks M. Beard Morrison & Foerster LLP
  2. 2. Enforcement Tools • Federal Trade Commission Act • Lanham Act • State Consumer Protection Statutes
  3. 3. FTC Act • “[U]nfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce are declared unlawful” (15 U.S.C. Sec. 45(a)(1)) • Is the claim likely to mislead a reasonable consumer? • viewed from the consumer’s perspective • FTC will not attempt to interpret the claim language • Was the claim material to the consumer’s decision to buy or use the product or service? • Substantiation – competent and reliable evidence
  4. 4. FTC Enforcement History • The FTC brought 37 enforcement actions involving environmental marketing claims between 1990 and 2000 • Most of the environmental claims were challenged on the basis that the company did not have sufficient substantiation for the claim it made • No reported enforcement actions since 2000 • Focus has been on education
  5. 5. FTC’s Green Guides • What are the Green Guides? • guidance document • substantial weight by courts • Evaluating whether to revise Green Guides • most key players want revisions • key areas of concern: • need to define “renewable” and “sustainable” • update “recycling” definitions • seals and labels • life-cycle assessments • use of “environmentally friendly,” “green,” etc. • send public comments directly to FTC
  6. 6. Key FTC Developments • New FTC Chair (William Kovacic) • former law professor • former General Counsel of FTC • passionate about FTC’s role and responsibilities • Renewed commitment to enforcement? • likely • looking for high impact case to set example • look for increased activity at headquarters and in regional offices
  7. 7. Keep An Eye Out For ... • Increased enforcement action at state level • state attorneys general • district attorneys • increased public concern and awareness makes this political issue • Consumer class actions • plaintiff’s bar has referred to this as the next “big ticket” issue • developing creative arguments to get past “reliance” element • Increased attention and pressure from: • consumer protection advocates • news media

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