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‘Climate-Controlled’ Sausage? Courts Crack Down on ‘Greenwashing’

A “climate-controlled” sausage. New trousers labeled “recycled.” A “sustainable” airline ticket.

More and more, big brands are using taglines like these to cater to their green-minded customers. And more and more, they are under fire from courts and regulators for making climate promises they can’t keep.

Researchers at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment last year identified “an explosion of ‘climate-washing’ cases,” using existing national laws and regulations. Between 2020 and 2022, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the number of cases challenging the “truthfulness of corporate climate commitments” more than doubled, their tally found.

This year, this dynamic is playing out in several countries.

In Denmark, a national court in March told Danish Crown, the country’s biggest pork producer, that it’s misleading to label its pork “climate-controlled,” though it declared that it’s fine to assert that Danish pigs “are more climate friendly than you think.”

In Britain, also in March, the Competition and Markets Authority, a regulatory agency, looked into the climate claims of several fast-fashion brands and concluded that it’s misleading to stamp a green leaf on a product and call it “recycled,” without specifying how much of its content is actually recycled.

A Dutch court prohibited KLM from using the slogan “fly responsibly” in its advertisements.

And in New York, State Attorney General Letitia James sued the meat multinational, JBS, for making “sweeping representations” about neutralizing its emissions in the coming years, but offering “no viable plan.”

These cases reflect how campaigners are using an ever-wider range of national and international law to slow down climate change. They have sued governments for failing to protect their citizens’ constitutional rights to life, and occasionally won, as in a case in Germany. They’ve used human rights law to challenge governments, most recently winning a case at a regional European court. They’ve sought to leverage international treaties, like the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to force governments to rein in emissions.

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