The trend to “go green” and buy green has prompted people to actually spend more for products that claim environmental responsibility, according to surveys.  It’s no mystery that companies involved in the supply chain have been seduced to capitalize on the “green” trend, either adhering to high standards or resorting to lofty claims as to eco-friendly features. 

Labels such as USDA Organic and Green-e find themselves in company with upwards of 80 other labels such as GreenKey, GreenGuard, Design for the Environment, Eco Logo, and GreenShield.  There are labels for products containing water, meat, chemicals, wood, plants, and more.  Certifications now exist for buildings, restaurants, markets, corporations, businesses and farms.  Much of these efforts began long before “green” became a trend or an annoying overuse of a color and standards are taken seriously by many organizations.  Yet “green” standards and labels remain in a confused state.  Last year, a Congressional hearing was held to address greenwashing claims and developing enforceable standards.  The Federal Trade Commission has more than one green guide and pursued manufacturers of products derived from bamboo and other materials making less than genuine assertions.

Right now, litigation is ongoing in the U.S. about claims made of green products.  In April, a consumer filed a putative class action against the maker of Simple Green, asserting that while the product has been touted for years as being nontoxic and environmentally responsible, it contains a toxic chemical linked to birth defects, anemia and other health effects.  Simple Green had already been the subject of a request for disclosure of ingredients used in household cleaners that resulted in a separate lawsuit against the makers of major cleaning brands such as OxyClean, Ajax All-Purpose Cleaner and other soaps and detergents made by The Proctor & Gamble Co., Colgate-Palmolive Inc., and two other manufacturers.  That case, Women’s Voices For The Earth, Inc., et al. v. The Procter & Gamble Company, et al., was brought under a long-overlooked 1976 New York statute mandating disclosure of chemical ingredients used in making household cleaning products. 

Two other lawsuits are proceeding in court by a consumer upset that a Greenlist label on Shout and Windex bottles is one created by the manufacturer, SC Johnson & Co., rather than an independent certification company, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.

Recently, UK consumer research firm, Which?, announced results of a survey on so-called green cleaners, finding that many products made claims that did not hold muster.  The Independent reported that Which? was critical of “the world’s biggest ecological cleaning product company, the Belgian Ecover,” cleaning products made by Tesco as well as an energy efficient iron, kettle and fuel efficient car.

Perhaps vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda is the way to go.  In the meantime, as long as there is a market for “green,” we may see more challenges to products touted as good for the environment.  Learn more about some of the “green” products currently under fire in HB’s Green Law & Risk Newsletter.