The ruling by the Danish Maritime Court is the culmination of a dispute that began in 2008 after Empac, a European metal packaging industry group, sued RPC Superfos, accusing the Danish plastic packaging company of making false or misleading environmental claims in marketing literature.
In particular, Empac alleged that certain statements about the environmental benefits of plastic versus the negative environmental impact of metal packaging were inaccurate and unsubstantiated.
According to the article, the Danish court agreed with Empac and found the statements to be inaccurate and unsupported, including invalid statements relating to carbon dioxide emissions. Although the court did not order Superfos to pay any damages, the company is prohibited from making certain claims and using certain images detrimental to metal packaging producers.
The court decision stressed the importance of the accuracy of environmental claims in advertising:
To prevent unfair competition strict requirements for accuracy of such environmental claims must apply. These have to be clear, true, specific and not misleading and have to be substantiated by an impartial expert.
The article quotes Jim Hansen, secretary general for the Danish Aluminum Association, which represented Empac in the case, as calling it important to “have on record that Superfos acted in contravention of the advertising guidelines.”
Hansen also mentioned that advertisers should be careful about life cycle analysis claims, especially those relating to an industry outside the realm of the advertising firm:
Life cycle analyses usually center on someone’s own material. But if you do make statements about another industry’s material you should be careful.
Which brings us to reverse greenwashing. In a previous post I discussed this increasingly common phenomenon.
Greenwashing is advertising that misleads consumers about the environmental benefits of goods or services. For example, making unsubstantiated claims about better energy efficiency or lower environmental impact.
Reverse greenwashing, on the other hand, consists of false or deceptive claims about the negative environmental impact of competitors’ products, such as the detrimental effects of metal containers on the environment.
Reverse greenwashing typically arises in the context of comparative advertising of environmentally friendly aspects of products or services, essentially comparative green advertising.
I’m sure we’ll see much more of it as the market of green products and service becomes increasingly crowded and firms need to differentiate themselves from their competitors to sell their wares.