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“Greenwashing” and Truth-In-Advertising

“Greenwashing” and Truth-In-Advertising

Pending Cases

Three consumers filed a class action lawsuit against the international cleaning product giant, The Clorox® Company, for falsely advertising products that are produced using unnatural substances and artificial synthesis as “naturally derived.” Clorox® claims its Green Works® products are “natural” and “naturally derived,” but an in-depth investigation into the substances used in the Green Works® products revealed that each contained at least one (and often, many) synthetic or artificially-created chemicals that are neither “natural” nor “naturally derived.” Substances include artificial preservatives, lubricants, surfactants, disinfectants, as well as artificial colorants and fragrances. The complaint alleges that because these synthetic chemicals are present, Clorox’s® claims that the products are “natural,” “naturally derived,” or provide “powerful cleaning done naturally” are false and misleading. The complaint further alleges that the synthetic chemicals in the products are not “naturally derived” and may cause damage to the environment. The Plaintiffs seek monetary relief on behalf of consumers nationwide, as well as injunctive relief, including the removal of Clorox’s® misleading representations from the products.

Gregorio, et. al. v. The Clorox Company

First Amended Consumer Class Action Complaint – 10/25/17

Media Coverage: 

A New York consumer has brought suit against Costco Wholesale Corporation for deceptive marketing and labeling of purportedly “environmentally responsible” cleaning products under its private-label “Kirkland Signature” line. Particular products at issue are Kirkland Signature Premium Liquid Dish Soap and the Kirkland Signature Premium Laundry Detergent. Costco labels the products as “environmentally responsible,” alongside claims that the products are made from “naturally derived ingredients,” “Recognized for Safer Chemistry,” “safer for the planet,” and made according to a “biodegradable formula.” In addition, Costco fills the products’ labels with imagery – such as icons resembling recycling symbols, water drops, and leaves, and a central image of a leaf floating in pristine water – that is highly suggestive of “green,” environmentally responsible products. The complaint alleges that, in truth, these products contain unnatural, harmful, and toxic chemical ingredients, including sodium hydroxide, sodium lauryl sulfate, lauramine oxide, and methylisothiazolinone. The complaint further alleges that, by deceiving consumers about the true nature of these products, Costco has been able to profit at the expense of consumers who seek environmentally friendly products and are willing to pay a premium for them. The Plaintiffs seek injunctive and monetary relief, including the removal of Costco’s misleading “environmentally responsible” representations from its products.

Gonzalez v. Costco Wholesale Corporation

Second Amended Consumer Class Action Complaint – 7/17/17

Two consumers brought a class action lawsuit against Pfizer, Inc. for its deceptive marketing of “Total Hydration” ChapStick® products. The complaint alleges that Pfizer markets these ChapStick® products as “100% Natural,” despite the products containing an array of unnatural, synthetic chemicals, such as tocopheryl acetate, octyldodecanol, and caprylic/capric triglyceride. Reasonable consumers, the complaint alleges, would not expect to find such synthetic ingredients in a “100% Natural” product. Accordingly, Plaintiffs seek declaratory and monetary relief on behalf of the class.

Tyman, et al. v. Pfizer, Inc.

Consumer Class Action Complaint – 9/2/16

Media Coverage: 

Breath DC, a non-profit organization based in Washington D.C., has brought suit against Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (collectively, the Defendants), for the deceptive marketing of their “Natural American Spirit” brand cigarettes as “Natural” and “Additive-Free.” Additionally, consumers from several states have brought class action suits on similar grounds and were subsequently consolidated into a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) under consumer protection statutes in twelve states. Defendants sell a variety of cigarettes under the Natural American Spirit brand, all of which they prominently label and advertise with representations that the cigarettes are “Natural” and “Additive-Free.” Many products also use the term “Organic” on labels and advertisements. The complaint alleges that, by marketing Natural American Spirit cigarettes with these representations, Defendants deceive consumers into believing that these cigarettes present a lower risk of tobacco-related disease and/or are less harmful than other tobacco products. Unfortunately, as the complaint further alleges, Natural American Spirit cigarettes are not safer than other cigarettes, but actually contain higher levels of carcinogens and heavy metals, with levels of nicotine that make them at least as addictive as other cigarettes. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration recently sent a warning letter to Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company informing it that the use of descriptors like “Natural” and “Additive-Free” leads consumers to believe that such cigarettes pose less of a health risk than other cigarettes, when there is no scientific support for such a claim. It is additionally alleged that the company’s deceptive marketing of Natural American Spirit cigarettes has helped the brand increase sales by 86% from 2009 to 2014, as overall cigarette sales in the United States fell by 17% during the same period.  Breathe DC seeks injunctive relief, including the removal and cessation of deceptive marketing practices, and the consumer plaintiffs in the MDL seek both injunctive and monetary relief, including statutory damages and restitution of ill-gotten gains.

In Re: Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company Marketing & Sales Practices Litigation and Sales Practices Litigation

Consolidated Amended Consumer Class Action Complaint – 1/12/17

Breath DC v. Sante Fe Natural Tobacco Company, Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Reynolds American Inc.

Non-Profit Complaint – 11/7/16

Media Coverage:

A New Jersey consumer brought a class action lawsuit against Welch Foods, Inc. and the Promotion in Motion Companies, Inc., for their deceptive advertising of Welch’s Fruit Snacks. The complaint alleges that the defendants misleadingly label their Fruit Snacks with representations such as “Made With Real Fruit” and “Fruit Is Our 1st Ingredient,” despite the products consisting primarily of added sweeteners and artificial flavors. Defendants’ marketing, the complaint alleges, misleads consumers into believing that the candy-like Fruit Snacks are more healthful and nutritious than they actually are, creating the false impression that the Fruit Snacks offer the benefits of consuming actual fruit. The Plaintiff seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief on behalf of the class.

Hall v. Welch Foods, Inc., et al.

First Amended Consumer Class Action Complaint – 6/26/17

Media Coverage:

Victories

In November 2012, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against 7UP® manufacturer Dr Pepper Snapple Group, over deceptive antioxidant claims for several regular and diet 7UP® varieties. The labels of these products featured pictures of cherries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, and pomegranates. Despite the pictures of fruit on the labels, the drinks contained no fruit juice of any kind and were fortified with only a small amount of one antioxidant, vitamin E. One 12-ounce serving contained 9 teaspoons (38 grams) of sugar and 140 calories. The diet versions contained the artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame potassium. The suit alleged that the “antioxidant” claims were misleading because they gave the impression that beneficial antioxidants were provided by the addition of healthy fruit juices. Additionally, the FDA discourages the fortification of nutritionally empty products like soda. This suit was brought in conjunction with Center for Science in the Public Interest.

VICTORY: In July 2013 Dr Pepper Snapple Group agreed to drop its deceptive antioxidant campaign, stop fortifying certain 7UP® soft drinks with vitamins, and they no longer claim the products have antioxidants.

Plaintiffs brought suit against General Mills regarding the false and deceptive packaging used for its Strawberry Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups® and other “fruit snacks.” The suit alleged that General Mills misled consumers about the nutritional and health qualities of its “fruit snacks,” and that Fruit Roll-Ups® snacks lacked any strawberries or significant amount of real fruit but were instead made mostly of sugars, artificial additives, and artificial dyes. This suit was brought in conjunction with Center for Science in the Public Interest.

VICTORY: In late 2012, General Mills agreed to improve its labeling for Strawberry Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups®. As long as Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups® contain no strawberries, the label will not carry any images of strawberries. General Mills also agreed to include the actual percentage of fruit in the product when making the claim, “Made with Real Fruit.”

Following the lead of other companies catering to the demand for environmentally friendly and safe cleaning products, SC Johnson – one of the largest consumer products companies in the world – created its own “green” seal, known as the Greenlist, and placed it on its existing Windex® glass cleaner, implying an environmental benefit similar to actual “green” cleaners on the market. Despite the new label, SC Johnson did not make any meaningful changes to the Windex® formulation or make the product “green” in any way. Plaintiffs brought this class action alleging that the Greenlist seal was completely fraudulent and misleading, and that Windex® provided no environmental benefit whatsoever, and in fact was harmful to children and wildlife.

VICTORY: In July 2011, SC Johnson announced it had agreed to stop using the Greenlist logo on Windex® products.