Various Bodies in Europe and the US Stay Active on Greenwashing

Two recent greenwashing decisions in the United States and Europe highlight the various (sometimes overlapping) organizations involved in combating false or misleading green advertising claims.

BBB

In the U.S., the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) recently examined environmental benefit and performance claims made in connection with “Eco Alkalines” batteries.

The manufacturer, LEI Electronics (LEI), agreed to most of the NAD’s recommendations including discontinuing certain advertising and modifying most of its environmental claims.

However, LEI pushed back against the NAD on LEI’s carbon neutrality claim, so the NAD referred that claim to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for review (see the BBB announcement here and the Lexology article here).

The statements that remain in dispute are:

[E]very purchase is carbon neutral….by purchasing Eco Alkalines batteries, you’re doing your part to reduce the CO2 and climate change impact brought about by the production, distribution, and disposal of alkaline batteries.

[The product is a] 100% carbon neutral alkaline battery.

erdgas

In Europe, the Lauterkeitskommission, the self-governing body of the Swiss commercial communications industry, found that certain claims made by the Swiss Gas Association (SGA, known as erdgas) regarding natural gas were insufficiently supported by evidence (see article here).

The disputed claims included the following statements:

Natural gas pollutes the environment less than oil, wood chips, pellets and coal power.

The most effective climate protection is to replace oil with natural gas.

Nature thanks you for purchasing a new natural gas heating.

The Lauterkeitskommission noted that the advertiser bears the burden of proving the truth of factual statements made in advertising.  It held that environmental superiority over competitors can be claimed only when the advertiser can demonstrate a significant advantage.

As to the SGA’s first claim, the Lauterkeitskommission held that the SGA’s evidence was insufficient to prove the superiority of gas over wood chips or pellets. The second claim was not sufficiently proven because, while natural gas may be superior to oil, there are other more environmentally beneficial heating systems.

The last claim was held to be permissible because it is “evident” that a new heating system would be superior to an old heating system.

While we’re used to the FTC and other national consumer watchdog agencies being involved in combating greenwashers, these investigations and decisions remind us that anti-greenwashing activity comes from many different types of organizations.

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.