Legal responses to greenwashing – making false or misleading claims about purportedly environmentally friendly products, services or practices – come in two common varieties.
The first is a private lawsuit brought by a consumer or group of consumers as a class action against a company accused of making such claims. Notable examples include the false advertising suit involving the Honda Civic Hybrid and the class action against SC Johnson regarding use of the Greenlist label on its Windex cleaning product.
The second is a public enforcement action brought by a government agency and/or consumer watchdog on behalf of consumers. One recent example is the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission action against two solar panel retailers.
In a new example of the latter variety, last month the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought an action against Lights of America (LOA), accusing the California LED lamp maker of violating the FTC Act by making false or unsubstantiated advertising claims about its products.
The complaint (ftc-lights_of_america_complaint.pdf), filed in federal court in Los Angeles, states three counts of such claims, relating to comparisons with incandescent lights, LED brightness claims and product life claims.
First, the FTC alleges that LOA’s LED lamps produce significantly less light output than a typical incandescent light bulb at the wattage represented in the company’s promotional materials.
Specifically, LOA’s label for a particular LED lamp states that the product replaces a 40-watt incandescent light bulb. But according to the complaint, the LED lamp produces only 74 lumens of light while a typical 40-watt incandescent bulb produces 405 lumens.
The FTC also alleges that LOA overstated the light output of one its LED lamps by representing that the lamp produces 90 lumens of light when the company’s tests demonstrated that it produces only 43 lumens.
The third count of the complaint states that LOA misrepresented the number of hours its LED lamps would last. In particular, while LOA claimed that one of its LED recessed lamps will last 30,000 hours independent testing showed that the lamp lost 80% of its light output after only 1,000 hours.
The complaint requests that the court enter a permanent injunction to prevent future violations by LOA and award other equitable remedies on behalf of consumers.
This case comes as the FTC has announced proposed revisions to its “Green Guides,” which provide guidance on how to make environmental marketing claims that are above board, true and substantiated (see the Sustainable Marks blog post on the proposed revisions).