According to a new research, a rush of lawsuits over greenwashing is threatening PR and advertising firms with “embarrassing discovery processes, unpleasant news cycles, and expensive and time-consuming legal evaluations.”
Hundreds of new court cases involving greenwashing have upped the pressure on PR and advertising firms, as prosecutors begin to cast a wider net in determining who should be held accountable for the contentious practise.
Clean Creatives, an activist climate-change organisation, published the research titled “Smoke and Mirrors: The Legal Risks of Fossil Fuel Advertising.” According to the report, at least 1,400 cases are still open, and the number is growing.
Since May 2021, 369 climate-related litigation against agencies have been resolved, with 218 (58%) ruling in favour of the PR and advertising firms.
It also claims that more cases (191) were filed in 2020 than in the previous five years (170), indicating a “significant increase in the number of new files.” The number of cases involving the role of public relations and advertising in climate change has increased in the last five years.
The examples are mostly from the United States, but they cover 39 countries in total. He went on to say that the majority of the existing lawsuits aren’t seeking monetary damages, but rather business risks such as “embarrassing discovery processes, unpleasant news cycles, and future need for expensive and time-consuming legal assessments.”
Nonetheless, a recent lawsuit involving McKinsey & Company highlights the potential financial penalties that PR firms could face, as well as how prosecutors have shifted their focus from solely targeting businesses for running deceptive campaigns that endanger public health to include third-party agencies advising them on how to do so.
McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, resolved a case for $573 million in February 2021 for marketing advice it supplied to opiate-based pharmaceutical producers, notably the Oxycontin brand. It was a “unique instance of it being held publicly accountable for its work with clients,” according to the New York Times.
On April 29, California’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, filed a subpoena to ExxonMobil, saying that the company had engaged in a “aggressive and fraudulent marketing and advertising campaign” on the effectiveness of recycling plastic.
“This half-century campaign of deception and the ongoing harm caused to the State of California, its residents, and its natural resources,” he said, adding that his investigation will “target companies that have caused and exacerbated the global plastics pollution crisis, their role in perpetuating recycling myths, and the extent to which this deception is still ongoing.
” The charges were labelled “meritless” by ExxonMobil, who said they were a distraction from the company’s “vital collaborative work” with governments around the world.