The ESG Initiative at the Wharton School


Greenwashing and the First Amendment

Outlet: Columbia Law Review
Sarah E. Light offers clarity on how the First Amendment should tackle issues at the nexus of science, politics, and markets.

Recent explosive growth in environmental and climate-related marketing claims by business firms has raised concerns about the truthfulness of these claims. Critics argue (or at least question whether) such claims constitute greenwashing, which refers to a set of deceptive marketing practices in which an entity publicly misrepresents or exaggerates the positive environmental impact of a product, a service, or the entity itself.

The extent to which greenwashing can be regulated consistent with the First Amendment raises thorny doctrinal questions that have bedeviled both courts and scholars. The answers to these questions have implications far beyond environmental marketing claims.