Appliance Recycling Centers of America, Inc. (ARCA) is a Minnesota appliance recycling company. Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court decision to dismiss false advertising claims ARCA had brought against its west coast competitor, refrigerator and freezer recycler Jaco Environmental, Inc. (Jaco).
Jaco’s alleged offenses included:
calling its recycling method a “unique” system with “unprecedented” results
saying that “JACO’s system for handling contaminated polyurethane is an entirely different approach”
claiming that “no other company could handle polyurethane contaminated with CFC-11”
The district court granted summary judgment for Jaco and the Court of Appeals affirmed, finding insufficient evidence that the statements had misled or deceived consumers.
The Court of Appeals held that the first statement is non-actionable puffery because it is a “general, subjective claim,” not a statement about “specific or absolute characteristics.”
In the greenwashing context, another way to think of the distinction is that the accused statements here did not claim specific environmental or energy efficiency benefits or certification of such benefits.
In most of the other recent greenwashing suits (e.g., the Honda Civic case, the Intel battery life case and the Windex case), the advertising claims at issue related to actual energy efficiency performance, environmental benefits and the appearance of independent third party environmental certification.
In this case, the purpose of the accused statements seemed to be to differentiate Jaco from its competitors. As such, Jaco was cleared of greenwashing. For false advertising claims to stick, to puff is not enough.