Greenwashing & the First Amendment

86 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2022 Last revised: 21 Jul 2023

See all articles by Amanda Shanor

Amanda Shanor

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Sarah E. Light

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School - Legal Studies & Business Ethics Department

Date Written: July 25, 2022


Recent explosive growth in environmental and climate-related marketing claims by business firms has raised concerns about their truthfulness. Critics argue (or at least question whether) such claims constitute greenwashing, which refers to a set of deceptive marketing practices in which an entity publicly misrepresents or exaggerates the positive environmental impact of a product, service, or the entity itself. The extent to which greenwashing can be regulated consistent with the First Amendment raises thorny doctrinal questions that have bedeviled both courts and scholars, the answers to which have implications far beyond environmental marketing claims. This Essay is the first to offer both doctrinal clarity and a normative approach to understanding how the First Amendment should tackle issues at the nexus of science, politics, and markets. It contends that the analysis should be driven by the normative values underlying the protection of speech under the First Amendment in the disparate doctrines that govern these three arenas. When listeners are epistemically dependent for information on commercial speakers, regulation of such speech for truthfulness is consistent with the First Amendment and subject to the laxer review of the commercial speech doctrine. This is because citizens must have accurate information not only to knowledgably participate at the ballot box but also to have meaningful freedom in economic life itself.

Keywords: First Amendment, Climate Change, Environmental Law & Policy, Constitutional Law & Theory, Marketing, Advertising, Commercial & Securities Disclosures, Commercial Speech

Suggested Citation

Shanor, Amanda and Light, Sarah E., Greenwashing & the First Amendment (July 25, 2022). Columbia Law Review, Forthcoming 2022, Available at SSRN:

Amanda Shanor (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
203-247-2195 (Phone)

Sarah E. Light

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School - Legal Studies & Business Ethics Department ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
Suite 600
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

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