Lawsuit Targets Greenwashing by Plastic Using Corporations
By Romero Halloway
Earth Island Institute unveiled yet another novel legal theory in its bid to hold the companies that create the growing global plastic pollution problem to account.
In June, the Earth Island Institute sued Coca Cola in federal court for false advertising, saying some consumers rely on the company’s promises that it is an environmentally friendly company invested in sustainable practices when making their purchase. In reality, Coca Cola contributes more to plastic pollution problems than any other company in the world.
“Coca-Cola has long been in the business of portraying itself as stewards of the environment while pointing to consumers as the source of plastic pollution,” said Earth Island Institute General Counsel Sumona Majumdar. “But it is Coca-Cola, not consumers, that chooses to use chart-topping amounts of plastic for its products. It is time this company is held accountable for deceiving the public.”
Coca-Cola is also named in another Earth Island Institute lawsuit that attempts to use public nuisance laws to hold plastic producers and plastic users accountable for environmental impacts.
As Courthouse News Service reported recently, the lawsuit seeks to hold Crystal Geyser Water Company, The Clorox Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsico, Inc., Nestlé USA, Inc., Mars, Incorporated, Danone North America, Mondelez International, Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Company, and The Procter & Gamble Company accountable for the vast amounts of plastic ending up in the environment.
In both cases, the Institute challenges whether companies like Coca-Cola should be allowed to use its little recycle symbol that assures consumers the bottle will be reused, when in fact, only about 10% of plastics created on earth will ever be recycled.
The latest suit says Coca-Cola is violating the Consumer Protection Procedures Act, which prohibits a variety of deceptive and unfair business practices. If the suit is successful, it would not only prevent Coca-Cola from claiming environmental stewardship but would also serve as a chilling effect for a wide variety of greenwashing initiatives undertaken by large multinational corporations in America.
Currently, many corporate claims about environmental sustainability are regulated by the same laws that apply to most advertising, which allows puffery, exaggeration and different forms of hyperbole. But corporations cannot make false claims, particularly if people rely on those claims when making their purchases. Such is the basis for false advertising law.
If Coca-Cola is held to account for false advertising, a slew of corporations that maintain they are acting out of concern for the environment when their actual core business model runs contrary to sustainability principles will face a reckoning.
Coca-Cola itself would be forced to be more transparent about how its packaging decisions are hurting oceans, beaches and waterways around the world.
“We want the Coca-Cola company to stop the greenwashing and false claims, be transparent about the plastic they use, and be a leader in investing in deposit and refill programs for the health of humans, animals, waterways, the ocean, and our environment,” said Julia Cohen, co-founder and managing director at Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Coca-Cola incorporates messages of environmental sustainability into many of its print, online and television advertising spots, the institute says. It points to the beverage company’s latest ad where it says, “Scaling sustainable solutions . . . and investing in sustainable packaging platforms to reduce our carbon footprint.” One recent marketing campaign began with the title “World Without Waste.”
Yet, Coca-Cola is named as the company most responsible for the growing plastic pollution problem in the Break Free From Plastic Global Cleanup and Brand Audit report.
“For the third consecutive year, Coca-Cola emerged as the #1 Top Global Polluter,” the report states. “A total of 13,834 branded Coca-Cola plastics were recorded in 51 countries, reflecting more plastic than the next two top global polluters combined.”
We here at Littorary believe corporations should be held to account for their sustainability claims and should not be allowed to sell products under the cover of deceptive claims about recycling and pollution.
Our solution to plastic pollution starts with product design, which we use to create compelling alternatives to single-use products, particularly as it relates to hot or chilled beverages like coffee and tea. A reusable non-plastic product can help salve the environmental wounds created by the overproduction of wasteful single-use products.
Littorary is committed to making durable and sophisticated products that rival the convenience of plastics without the environmental burden. We believe technology and design innovations can revolutionize how Americans and the world consume products in concert with the health of the environment. Please stay tuned to our website, blog, and upcoming Kickstarter page as we unveil a product fully capable of providing the convenience and sustainability that will consign the concept of disposable plastics to the garbage heap of history.