Nike Hit with Class Action Over ‘Greenwashed’ Sustainability Claims
A proposed class action alleges the products in Nike’s “sustainable” clothing collection are not as eco-friendly as advertised given the items are not actually made with environmentally friendly materials.
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The 47-page “greenwashing” lawsuit charges broadly that Nike has illegally attempted to capitalize on consumers’ preference for “green” products by falsely claiming that certain apparel tagged with “sustainable” claims and marketed as supporting the retailer’s waste- and carbon-reducing “Move to Zero” initiative are, unbeknownst to the public, made from non-biodegradable plastic-based materials.
“In fact, of the 2,452 Nike ‘Sustainability’ Collection Products … only 239 Products are actually made with any recycled materials,” the complaint specifies.
Overall, upward of 90 percent of the items in Nike’s “Sustainability” collection are not “made with recycled fibers” as advertised, and, according to the lawsuit, are actually comprised mostly of “virgin” synthetic materials that are known to be harmful to the environment. The products that do contain recycled material, the suit says, are predominantly made with recycled polyester and recycled nylon, two materials that the case emphasizes are “still plastic” and thus not biodegradable.
“Once you dispose of the materials, they sit in a landfill for hundreds of years,” the complaint states. “They are not ‘sustainable’ and do not ‘reduce waste and our carbon footprint.’ Nor do they support a ‘Move to Zero carbon and zero waste.’”
The lawsuit, filed on May 10 in Missouri, looks for the court to order Nike to undertake a “corrective advertising campaign” and reimburse consumers who the case contends were not adequately informed that the retailer’s “sustainable” clothing is anything but and can harm the environment.
“Consumers would not know the true nature of the clothing’s materials merely by reading the products’ label,” the case summarizes.
Nike’s “sustainable” claims are “false, misleading, and deceptive,” suit alleges
According to the lawsuit, the clothing in Nike’s “sustainable” collection is made predominantly with “virgin synthetic materials,” chiefly plastic-based, non-biodegradable textiles such as polyester and nylon. These textiles “require loads of energy for extraction and processing” and are not derived from renewable sources, the filing says.
Synthetic materials such as polyester, a form of plastic derived from oil, shed plastic particles—known as microplastics—as they continue to be washed and worn, the case says. These materials are “a prime source of microplastic pollution,” which is especially harmful to marine life, the suit relays.
Per the complaint, textiles such as polyester and nylon represent the largest source of microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans—and ultimately pose a health risk to humans as they “make their way up the food chain.”
All in all, the foregoing means that Nike’s “sustainability” claims for the clothing at issue are “false, misleading, and deceptive” as the vast majority of the “green” items are made from materials that, at best, end up in landfills, the lawsuit alleges.
Lawsuit: recycled materials used by Nike are problematic for the environment
According to the suit, Nike has heavily marketed recycled polyester as a sustainable and environmentally responsible material, positioning it for consumers as a material that can help “reduce waste and our carbon footprint” and in support of the retailer’s “Move to Zero” initiative. The company also claims that “[i]n addition to reducing waste, recycling poly lowers carbon emissions by up to 30% compared to virgin poly,” and keeps an average of 1 billion plastic bottles out of landfills and waterways each year, the complaint relays.
However, recycled polyester is, in truth, neither sustainable nor eco-friendly given how it’s sourced and processed, among other factors, and is essentially a “one-way street to landfill or incineration,” the case contests.
In particular, the “vast majority” of recycled polyester comes from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles that have been “mechanically recycled into polyester fiber for clothes,” the suit shares. Per the case, Nike admits that its recycled polyester is derived from plastic bottles that are “cleaned, shredded into flakes, converted into pellets, and then spun into high-quality yarn.”
However, this method of “downcycling” PET bottles into polyester poses an issue in several ways, namely in that the process is “not a circular solution” given the polyester fibers lose strength as they’re recycled and, as a result, eventually end up in landfills, the case emphasizes. Further, the competition between the packaging and clothing industries for PET bottles hinders the amount of recyclable PET bottles being used for bottle-to-bottle recycling, which is more sustainable, the suit says. Lastly, recycled polyester does nothing to address the shedding of microplastics, meaning “billions of plastic particles still end up reaching the ocean, the air we breathe and our food chains,” the lawsuit states.
Given that recycled polyester represents a one-way street to landfill or incineration, this material does not make a product ‘sustainable,’ ‘reduce waste,’ support a ‘Move to Zero carbon and zero waste,’ or environmentally friendly.”
Similarly, Nike represents recycled nylon as a sustainable and environmentally responsible material despite the fact that it is, like recycled polyester, still plastic and not biodegradable, the suit continues.
Recycled nylon is not a sustainable and/or environmentally responsible material. Recycled nylon neither diverts discarded material from the environment nor does it promote new recycling streams for nylon products that are no longer functional. It just delays the inevitable. Nike is essentially moving plastic from the ocean to the landfill.”
More broadly, hinging sustainability strategies on the premise that consumers can continue to consume plastic-based goods is “highly problematic,” the lawsuit goes on. Specifically, the case says, “green” marketing fails to address the pillar issues of “perpetuating disposable solutions and the over-consumption of natural resources,” and ultimately encourages consumers to “buy more clothes or throw away garments sooner, in the belief they can be recycled in some magic machine.”
For retailers, there’s big money in going “green,” lawsuit says
As the lawsuit tells it, Nike is among a litany of companies attempting to ride all the way to the bank the wave of consumers in search of sustainable, environmentally friendly products. Rather than create products that are actually sustainable and eco-friendly, Nike, like others in the industry, the suit alleges, has “greenwashed” its products by deceptively claiming that the clothing is sustainable.
Amid the so-called “greenwashing” problem, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released the “Green Guides” in order to help companies “avoid making misleading and deceptive claims,” the complaint reads. The FTC’s parameters are designed to help consumers parse what it actually means for a product to be “green” by serving as a guidepost for corporations like Nike that tout their products as “sustainable” and market them with “green” imagery, such as models and cartoon characters surrounded by flowers and plants.
The inaccuracy of Nike’s “green” marketing means the company’s sustainability claims are out of line with the FTC’s Green Guides as they pertain to the use of “environmental marketing claims,” the filing alleges.
The lawsuit stresses that consumers expect products marketed as “sustainable” and “made with recycled fibers,” not to mention as part of a broad initiative to reduce waste and carbon emissions, to be less harmful and generally more beneficial to the environment. The case alleges that consumers nationwide have paid more for Nike’s purportedly sustainable products over comparable items not touted with eco-friendly claims and would not have done so had they known the retailer had “greenwashed” the clothing.
By giving the impression that it is an environmentally conscious company, and by tagging products as “sustainable” and “made with recycled fibers,” among other claims, Nike is creating for itself a significant edge in terms of sales and profit at the expense of consumers, the suit alleges.
“This is what lies at the heart of its sustainable style focus,” the case reads.
Which Nike products are mentioned in the lawsuit?
The complaint contends that the products listed here have been fraudulently “greenwashed” by Nike—that is, misrepresented as “sustainable,” “eco-friendly” and/or “made from recycled materials.”
Who’s covered by the lawsuit?
The lawsuit aims to represent all consumers in the United States who, within the relevant statute of limitations period, purchased products from Nike’s “Sustainability” collection, including those in the list linked to on this page, for personal, family or household use.
I have Nike products that were advertised as “sustainable.” How do I get involved?
There’s typically nothing you need to do to join or sign up for a proposed class action case when it’s initially filed. It’s usually only if and when the suit settles that a consumer would need to act. In the event of a settlement, the people who are covered by the deal—the class members—may be notified directly with instructions on what to do next and details about their legal rights.
If you’ve purchased “sustainable” Nike clothing, or simply want to stay in the loop on class action lawsuit and settlement news, sign up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter.
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