Eric L. Lane
Thomas Jefferson School of Law; McKenna Long & Aldridge
March 1, 2013
Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, Vol. 38, No. 2
For over forty years, environmental awareness and concerns about the environmental impact of products, services, and business practices have influenced consumer decision-making, corporate advertising, and marketing strategies. As the purchasing power of green consumers has grown, the instances of marketers making false or misleading advertising claims about environmental benefits - “greenwashing” - have multiplied from an occasional irritant to a ubiquitous practice with major ramifications for the struggle to mitigate climate change. Throughout, the paradigm for investigating, studying, and combating greenwashing has been to focus on claims by companies engaged in marketing consumer products to individual consumers and the effects of those claims on consumers. That was justifiable because, until fairly recently, nearly all instances of greenwashing involved those straightforward linear scenarios, and the vast majority of greenwashing legal actions were brought by or on behalf of individual green consumers. But that view of greenwashing has become antiquated and is too narrow to account for greenwashing activity today. Now that we are in the midst of the first sustained clean tech revolution, there is greatly increased commerce in green technologies, and much of the commerce is business-to-business as clean tech companies market and sell renewable energy generation equipment such as wind turbines and solar panels to green commercial “consumers” such as developers and installers. The clean tech boom has given rise to a spate of lawsuits involving alleged false and deceptive representations about the genuineness, reliability, and efficiency of green technology equipment and related services. The limited historical view of greenwashing misses this new species of cases entirely, perpetuating a significant greenwashing “blind spot” and leading to a gross underestimation of the scope and impact of greenwashing activity today. This article argues that we need a new paradigm that takes a broader view of the phenomenon of greenwashing. Specifically, we should look beyond the traditional paradigm of greenwashing, which is limited to deceptive marketing of consumer products to individual consumers, and contemplate a wider variety of cases that include representations made to green commercial consumers and legal actions brought by and on behalf of commercial consumers. By changing the greenwashing paradigm in this way and defining it more expansively to reflect the commercial realities of the clean tech revolution, we will eliminate the blind spot and provide the broader vantage point necessary to identify and understand new instances of greenwashing.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 55
Keywords: greenwash, greenwashing, green technology, climate change, clean tech, eco-marks, green brands
Date posted: June 21, 2012 ; Last revised: March 4, 2013