Nike Accused of Greenwashing in New Lawsuit
A Nike customer is accusing the brand of greenwashing. In a complaint filed May 10 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, plaintiff Maria Guadalupe Ellis claimed that Nike uses “deceptive and misleading” statements when marketing its sustainability collection. Specifically, the suit claims that Nike “deceives consumers into believing that they're receiving products that are sustainable, made with recycled fibers,” and can reduce carbon one’s footprint in a move to “zero carbon and zero waste.”
“[The plaintiff] would not have purchased the products if she had known that they were not sustainable, not made from sustainable materials and not environmentally friendly,” the suit read.
Ellis, who is asking the lawsuit to be certified as a federal and state class action, also said that of the 2,452 products Nike lists in its sustainability collection, “only 239 products are actually made with any recycled materials." The suit also alleges that Nike’s sales of items that it claims are to be eco-friendly is a violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. The complaint also cited the Federal Trade Commission’s “Green Guides,” which are designed to prevent companies from making deceptive claims.
Total Retail's Take: The lawsuit comes as interest in eco-friendly fashion grows, especially among Gen Z and millennial consumers. As a result, companies are marketing their products as sustainable, though the qualifications for using that term are still vague and the industry has no uniform standard in place. This has resulted in many organizations loosely slapping the term "sustainable" on their products, a practice that has come to be known as "greenwashing."
This isn't the first time a retailer or brand has been sued and/or fined for greenwashing. Last year, for example, Walmart and Kohl’s were respectively fined $2.5 million and $3 million in civil penalties by the FTC after they were hit with allegations that they “falsely marketed dozens of rayon textile products as bamboo.” H&M has also been accused of “greenwashing” in lawsuits after using the controversial Higg Materials Sustainability Index, which has since been dropped by many fashion organizations, including H&M. Transparency and authenticity are critical components of an organization's sustainability strategy; Nike's commitment to those standards are being called into question with this lawsuit.
Melissa Campanelli is Editor-in-Chief of Total Retail. She is an industry veteran, having covered all aspects of retail, tech, digital, e-commerce, and marketing over the past 20 years. Melissa is also the co-founder of the Women in Retail Leadership Circle.