A judge dismissed a greenwashing lawsuit brought against Nike

A federal judge has rejected a proposed class action lawsuit that accused Nike of “eco-fraud” in marketing claims related to its sustainability collections.

The case generated significant interest in the promotional products industry and marketers more broadly because it contained claims that recycled polyester and nylon used in some Nike products are not actually sustainable materials and therefore cannot be sold or advertised as such.

If the court upheld this view, it could potentially influence the sustainability stories that marketers create around products containing recycled polyester and nylon, including clothing sold as part of promotions.

Still, no major shock was to be expected, at least in this case.

U.S. District Judge Matthew T. Schelp granted Nike’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by plaintiff Maria Guadalupe Ellis. In an order filed June 10, Schelp also denied Ellis’ post-release motion, which essentially asked whether she could file an amended complaint that would allow the case to continue.

Case dismissed

In dismissing the case, Schelp wrote that Ellis failed to establish any facts showing that Nike products are not made from organic and recycled fibers and do not contain sustainable materials.

“How does she know it’s true? She doesn’t speak,” Schelp wrote.

He said Ellis did not provide any further information to establish how she concluded that more than 2,000 products that she said did not contain recycled or organic fibers were made from virgin synthetic and inorganic materials.

“It does not mention any testing or analysis,” Schelp wrote. “It says nothing about how their appearance or behavior may indicate makeup. It does not bring any charges against the supplier of the defendants’ materials. There are no complaints about the production process. It provides no details regarding insider knowledge, for example from the whistleblower who exposed this alleged massive corporate lie….”

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Schelp opined that Ellis is offering only that she “purchased three Nike for Sustainability Collection products and her unadorned conclusion that over 2,000 Nike for Sustainability Collection products were not manufactured using everyone recycled and organic fibers.”

In layman’s terms, Schelp ultimately concluded that dismissal was justified because Ellis failed to present evidence/reasonable allegations that Nike’s statements about Nike’s sustainability collections were misleading, false or fraudulent, which would be required to establish liability.

It also dismissed Ellis’ claims made under Missouri state law, where the case was brought in federal court, on the grounds that she failed to demonstrate that she acted as a reasonable consumer under the circumstances.

Background of the case

Greenwashing is a form of advertising or marketing in which public relations and marketing are used in a deceptive manner to convince the public that an organization’s products, goals and/or policies are environmentally friendly when in fact they are not.

In her unsuccessful lawsuit, Ellis stated that she purchased certain Nike products that she believed Nike advertised as sustainable, paying – she claimed – a premium for the belief that they were environmentally friendly. However, the lawsuit states, she and others who purchased such products were defrauded because the goods are not actually sustainable and most are made from “virgin synthetic materials.”

Ellis stated that even some Nike products made from recycled polyester and nylon are not environmentally friendly because such materials are “still plastic” and not biodegradable – a claim that, like the rest of the suit, was not addressed.

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