New York State Attorney General Letitia James has filed a lawsuit against beef producer JBS in state court. The allegations center around JBS’s allegedly misleading marketing claims related to its commitment to reduce climate pollution over the next decade. These types of “greenwashing” claims are on the rise across the US. 

The New York Attorney General is claiming:

  • Deceptive Advertising: Despite recommendations from a consumer watchdog group advising JBS to cease advertising due to the lack of a viable climate strategy, the company continued making deceptive claims about its climate goals.
  • Global Emission Reduction Pledge: JBS is part of a global trend, with hundreds of companies committing to cut greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming. In 2021, JBS announced its ambitious target to eliminate or offset all heat-trapping emissions from its operations and supply chains by 2040.
  • Feasibility Challenges: Prosecutors in New York argue that even if JBS had a plan, it would be unfeasible to fully deliver on its climate commitment. The scale of JBS’s agricultural operations makes achieving net-zero emissions challenging, and offsetting emissions through methods like carbon credits would be prohibitively expensive.
  • Consumer Impact: Attorney General James emphasizes that consumers are increasingly conscious of environmental issues. When companies falsely advertise sustainability commitments, they mislead consumers and put the planet at risk.

Agricultural and consumer products companies need to be especially mindful of these greenwashing claims when considering their advertising and public statements on climate issues. Greenwashing generally refers to the deceptive practice of misrepresenting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) credentials. Increasingly, lawsuits are claiming that companies are falsely claiming to be environmentally friendly, sustainable, or socially responsible, leading consumers and investors to make decisions based on inaccurate information. These claims pose reputational, regulatory, and litigation risks for organizations, but these risks can be mitigated with careful consideration of marketing materials and experienced legal counsel. 

Mason Freeman is a litigator who advises global brands on commercial and litigation issues, including preventing or defending greenwashing claims.