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What is greenwashing?

On Behalf of | Jul 27, 2023 | Environmental Law

Greenwashing describes deceptive marketing or advertising spin that conveys misinformation or a false impression that a company’s products are more environmentally friendly or sound than they actually are. In California, law SB 343 makes it illegal to use misleading environmental marketing claims on products’ packaging. In April 2022, Walmart and Kohl’s reached a $5-million settlement with the FTC, the largest civil penalty ever for deceptive environmental claims; all over bamboo textile products. California also has legislation regulating how compostable plastics are labeled.

Greenwashing in California

In California, violating SB 343 is a misdemeanor. This law governs environmental advertising, use of the recycling symbol, recyclability and packaging. The law makes it illegal to provide untruthful, misleading or deceptive environmental marketing claims, whether they are implied or explicit. Anyone making environmental marketing claims must maintain records and documentation validating all recyclable representations and ensuring products comply with FTC standards. The AB 1201 compostable legislation does not have criminal or civil penalties, but manufacturers are still liable.

More on greenwashing

The chief executive of California Environmental Voters, a sponsor of the 2021 SB 343 bill, described the legislation as an opportunity for the state to lead the country in the fight against climate change. Operating as the fifth largest economy in the world provides California with the unique opportunity to leverage its market share and market power towards advancing environmental laws for climate change. The bill requires companies to provide a comprehensive report on supply chain emissions at different levels.

The SB 343 law prohibits using the chasing-arrows recycling symbol unless the item is actually recyclable and the qualifying criteria are met. This California greenwashing law requires ongoing studies and updates to statewide analysis to provide manufacturers with the appropriate information for labeling products so consumers can readily identify what is or is not recyclable. Studying the recycled material and establishing new reporting requirements are two major components of SB 343 to be initiated in January 2024.