Coca-Cola Wins Greenwashing Case
The DC Superior Court has granted Coca-Cola Company’s motion to dismiss a 2021 lawsuit filed against it for false and deceptive marketing practices. Plaintiffs argued that the company had falsely represented itself as a sustainable and environmentally friendly company. The 2021 Complaint alleged that Coca-Cola’s representations violate the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (“DC CPPA”) because its marketing and advertising “tend to mislead and are deceptive about the true nature and quality of its products and business.”
The Complaint stated that the marketing is false and deceptive because the company “portrays itself as ‘sustainable’ and committed to reducing plastic pollution while polluting more than any other beverage company and actively working to prevent effective recycling measures in the U.S.” The Complaint cites numerous examples, including:
- A statement on the Coca-Cola website stating, “Our planet matters. We act in ways to create a more sustainable and better shared future. To make a difference in people’s lives, communities and our planet by doing business the right way.”
- A statement on the company website stating, “Make 100% of our packaging recyclable globally by 2025. [And] [u]se at least 50% recycled material in our packaging by 2030.”
- A statement on the company’s Twitter account stating, “Scaling sustainability solutions and partnering with others is a focus of ours.” “Make 100% of our packaging recyclable globally by 2025. [And] [u]se at least 50% recycled material in our packaging by 2030.”
Coca-Cola filed a motion to dismiss in response. The DC Superior Court found that Coca-Cola’s statements were aspirational in nature and, therefore, not a violation of the DC CPPA. The Court stated that Earth Island Institute had not alleged that any statement made by Coca-Cola was provably false or plausibly misleading or that the company misled consumers as to its products’ characteristics. The Court acknowledged that Coca-Cola may have failed to meet advertised environmental goals in the past, but that does not impede its ability to set future environmental goals publicly. In addition, the Court held that Coca-Cola’s statements were not tied to a “product or service” as required by DC CPPA. None of the statements were included on the bottle of any product or in the marketing of any product. Furthermore, the Court determined that Coca-Cola’s statements are not sufficient to create a misleading “general impression” or a “mosaic of representations” to a reasonable DC consumer as a matter of law under the DC CPPA.
The Court further stated that the Complaint could not prevail because it was based on how Coca-Cola has branded itself, and the DC CPPA does not have any controlling authority on how a brand cultivates its image. Coca-Cola made no specific environmental commitments, which further made it difficult for the Court to take any action. The Court stated that in other similar cases, companies made claims such as “100% recycled and recyclable bottles,” which is concrete and indicative of a promise to customers, as opposed to vague aspirational statements from Coca-Cola, such as the recyclable packaging by 2025.