A proposed class action alleges the “carbon neutral” claim on labels of Evian Natural Spring Water is false given the manufacturing of the product still causes carbon dioxide (CO2) to be released into the atmosphere.
The 29-page lawsuit says that although defendant Danone Waters of America may assert that “carbon neutral” means that its investments in eco-friendly projects “offset” the carbon emissions produced by manufacturing the bottled water, this explanation is conspicuously absent from Evian labels and is not how reasonable consumers understand the term “carbon neutral.”
According to the case, the organizations from whom Danone purchases “carbon credits” do not currently or actually reduce CO2 emissions, and thus do not “offset” the CO2 emissions created by the company’s production of Evian water “in any manner.”
“Defendant’s manufacture of the Product still causes CO2 to be released into the atmosphere, contrary to a reasonable consumer’s understanding of the term ‘carbon neutral.’ And, even if carbon neutral is meant to refer to Defendant’s offset credits, Defendant’s advertising is still false and misleading under the FTC’s guidelines because the organizations Defendant utilizes also contribute to pollution and climate change, and any ‘offsets’ will not happen for decades.”
The suit argues that consumers would not have purchased Evian water, or would have paid substantially less for it, had they known Danone’s “carbon neutral” claim was untrue.
The technical definition of “carbon neutral” is “having or resulting in no net addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere,” the lawsuit explains, noting that “nearly sixty percent” of consumers do not understand what the “ambiguous and deceptive” term means. Reasonable consumers often mistake carbon neutral for “carbon zero” or “carbon free,” even though no carbon zero products exist yet, the suit says.
This widespread misunderstanding exists amid rampant climate change, the crux of which is the “greenhouse effect,” or the natural warming of Earth that occurs when gases in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun that would otherwise escape into space. The suit stresses that greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, from human activities are by far the most significant driver of climate change since the mid-20th century.
According to the complaint, Danone Waters of America is among the companies that have “deviated” from the more technical definition of “carbon neutral” and have instead adopted the “carbon offset” definition, claiming to offset their CO2 emissions with agroforestry projects, such as planting trees, which “theoretically sequester” the same amount of CO2 that the entity’s manufacturing produces.
Notwithstanding that reasonable consumers simply “do not understand” that this is what companies mean when they claim to be “carbon neutral,” the “carbon offset” definition is still false given many of the promised carbon savings are difficult to measure or never happen, the lawsuit says. Per the case, companies’ use of this term is essentially “greenwashing” meant to capitalize on consumers’ desire, and willingness to pay more, for eco-friendly products.
“Carbon neutral companies still release CO2 into the atmosphere. Further, even when companies claim carbon neutrality, the carbon offsetting market ‘is awash with challenges, fuzzy math and tough-to-prove claims.’ For these reasons, many criticize the carbon offset economy as a form of greenwashing because it allows corporations to ‘buy complacency, political apathy[,] and self-satisfaction.’”
The filing alleges that regardless of whether the technical or “carbon offset” definition of “carbon neutral” is used, Danone’s claims that Evian bottled water is a “carbon neutral” product are still “deceptive and misleading.” In truth, the product “does in fact leave a carbon footprint” since the Evian bottled water’s lifecycle releases CO2 into the atmosphere, meaning the product is not “carbon neutral” as a reasonable consumer would understand the term, the lawsuit alleges.
Further, even if the defendant claims its investments in purportedly eco-friendly projects offset the CO2 produced by the manufacture of Evian bottled water, transporting the product, and the minimally recyclable plastic used during manufacture, nevertheless release relatively large volumes of CO2 into the atmosphere, the complaint relays.
Rather than actually reduce or eliminate its CO2 pollution, Danone instead co-founded the Livelihood Carbon Funds (LCF), the suit says. Per the case, corporations invest in LCF, and the fund in turn provides “upfront financing” to developers for large-scale project implementation and maintenance over one or two decades. The investing corporations, in exchange, receive “result-based payments” for the risk they bear in the form of carbon credits, the lawsuit reads.
“In other words, the Product’s lifecycle produces CO2 and Defendant contributes money to LCF, which invests that money in agroforestry projects,” the complaint reads. “Rather than a monetary return on investment, Defendant receives carbon offset credits that theoretically neutralize the Product’s CO2 emissions.”
The lawsuit argues that by representing Evian bottled water as “carbon neutral,” Danone implies that the CO2 produced during manufacturing has already been offset, or will be offset “in the near future.” However, according to the LFC website, it takes 10 to 20 years for the fund’s projects to be implemented, the case contests.
“Therefore, contrary to Defendant’s express representations, the Product is not carbon neutral,” the suit charges.
The lawsuit looks to cover all persons in the United States who have purchased Evian Natural Spring Water touted on product labels as “carbon neutral.”
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