The Southern District Court of New York recently denied a motion to dismiss a false advertising lawsuit against a water bottle company, holding that a reasonable consumer could be misled by the company’s “carbon neutral” labeling.

In Dorris v. Danone Waters, 2024 WL 112843 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 10, 2024), the plaintiffs asserted claims under California, Massachusetts, and New York consumer protection laws, alleging that they had been misled by “carbon neutral” claims on Evian water bottles.  Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that they decided to purchase the water bottles in question based on their “carbon neutral” labeling, which the plaintiffs understood to mean that “the Product’s manufacturing did not produce CO2 or otherwise cause pollution.” In fact, plaintiffs claimed, the manufacturing process did produce a carbon footprint.

In moving to dismiss the complaint, defendant argued that no reasonable consumer “could reasonably believe the Product is transported from their factories in the French Alps to California and Massachusetts without emitting any carbon at all.” In defendant’s view, the label merely represented that the water bottles were certified as carbon neutral by the Carbon Trust, an independent third party.

The court sided with the plaintiffs (after dismissing the New York state law claims for jurisdictional reasons). Examining the dictionary definitions of “carbon neutral,” the court found that the term lacked a common, everyday meaning, and could be “easily misunderstood” by a reasonable consumer. The court analogized the term to the word “crème” as used in Dumont v. Reily Foods Company, 934 F.3d 35, 41 (1st Cir. 2019), where the “common understanding of the term potentially strayed from its precise definition.” The court also looked to the FTC’s Green Guides, which urge companies not to make claims of “unqualified general environmental benefit,” and survey results showing that nearly 60% of American consumers do not know what the term “carbon neutral” means. Although defendants argued that their product label directed consumers to their website which in turn explained the meaning of the carbon neutral certification, the court observed that the reasonable consumer is not expected to “do research.”

This decision is consistent with others where courts have declined to dismiss challenges to environmental marketing claims that plaintiffs allege to be ambiguous. 

Photo of Zoe Kaiser Zoe Kaiser

Zoe Kaiser is an associate in the firm’s San Francisco office, where she is a member of the Litigation and Investigations and Copyright and Trademark Litigation Practice Groups. She advises on cutting-edge topics such as generative artificial intelligence.

Zoe maintains an active pro…

Zoe Kaiser is an associate in the firm’s San Francisco office, where she is a member of the Litigation and Investigations and Copyright and Trademark Litigation Practice Groups. She advises on cutting-edge topics such as generative artificial intelligence.

Zoe maintains an active pro bono practice, focusing on media freedom.