SC Johnson Reaches Undisclosed Settlement in “Greenwashing” Litigation

Though we hadn’t previously known “greenwashing” was even a word, much less something around which a class-action lawsuit could be centered, we now know that at least in California, and later Wisconsin, invocation of that term may entitle the accuser to an undisclosed sum of settlement money.  We previously reported here that a California resident had filed suit in federal court on behalf of purchasers of various household products manufactured by SC Johnson, alleging that the company was deceptively marketing its products as “green,” or environmentally friendly, with its use of the trademarked “Greenlist” labeling sticker on its products.  Koh v. S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., No. C-09-00927 RMW (N.D. Cal.).  Another suit similarly was filed in Wisconsin.

SC Johnson recently issued a detailed press release in which its CEO announced that the company will stop using its Greenlist logo on Windex products and disclosed that the company has reached “an undisclosed settlement” agreement as to the two lawsuits filed against it.  In its candid statement, the company set forth its reasons for settlement:

“We decided to settle for two reasons. First, while we believed we had a strong legal case, in retrospect we could have been more transparent about what the logo signified,” said SC Johnson Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson. “Second, and very importantly, Greenlist™ is such a fundamentally sound and excellent process we use to green our products, that we didn’t want consumers to be confused about it due to a logo on one product.”

The statement goes on to wisely say – in words that must be echoed by many slapped with product liability suits – that “[w]hile companies always try to ensure labels are clear and understandable, different interpretations can arise.”  In any event, it looks at though SC Johnson settled these suits quickly, and likely took from it a valuable lesson in marketing practices.

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