Danone faces legal complaint over claim that Evian water is carbon neutral

18 Jan 2024 by The Water Diplomat

District Court of New York

On January 10th, a Southern New York District Court Judge ruled that Danone, a French multinational company which produces bottled water (amongst others), must face a lawsuit related to its claims that its Evian brand of bottled water sold in the United States is “carbon neutral”. In October 2022, a class action lawsuit had been filed by plaintiff Stephanie Dorris on behalf of consumers of Evian water. On the label of Evian water, the plaintiff submitted, Danone states that the product is ‘carbon neutral’.

 The complaint argued that reasonable consumers, reading the product’s label and packaging, would believe that the manufacturing of the product is sustainable and does not leave a carbon footprint based on Defendant’s representations.  However, the plaintiff argued that the manufacturing of the product still causes carbon dioxide (CO₂) to be released into the atmosphere. Therefore, it was argued,  the carbon neutral claim is false and misleading and if consumers had known this, they would not have purchased the product or paid substantially less for it.

The complaint noted that there is a growing concern related to the climate crisis in which some 78% of the world’s population are increasingly feeling the collective threat of man-made damage to the planet. Greenhouse gases from human activities are the most significant drivers of climate change, and CO₂ is the primary gas emitted through human activities. There is widespread acknowledgement that climate change constitutes a crisis, and Americans are experiencing this directly through, amongst others, the destruction of homes as a result of wildfires, decreasing air quality, extreme heat and downpours which are affecting infrastructure, increased risk of erosion and flooding for coastal communities, and diminished food security.

As a result, consumers are increasingly turning to sustainable products: 70% of the population in the United States and Canada think that it is important if a brand is eco-friendly or sustainable, and a majority would be willing to pay up to 35% more for eco-friendly brands. However, this desire to consume environmentally products has set in motion and adverse market process known as ‘greenwashing’, whereby producers convey a false impression or provide misleading information about the environmental impact of their products. Companies which engage in greenwashing typically exaggerate their claims or the benefits in an attempt to mislead consumers.

In the case of the claim that products are carbon neutral, a majority of consumers have difficulty in identifying precisely what the term means in relation to a product. In addition, many companies do not in fact produce sustainably but rather engage in “offsetting” carbon emissions, whereby they support projects that reduce carbon emissions in order to make up for emissions that occur elsewhere. However, a large number of carbon offset schemes have been found to have brought gains that are quickly reversed or which are difficult to accurately measure.

Danone has responded so far by stating that the complaint defies common sense and reason. The claim made by the plaintiff is subjective, and the product has a carbon neutral certification based on current professional standards. The lawyers acting on behalf of Danone state that the product’s label accurately informs consumers that the Carbon Trust, an independent third party with a rigorous assessment process and standards, has certified the product as ‘carbon neutral’. It is unreasonable, they argue, to assume that the product “magically arrived from the French Alps to their homes without the emission of even a molecule of carbon dioxide “. If a consumer should visit the Evian website, it would discover that the Danone products sold in the U.S. and Canada were certified as carbon neutral in accordance with the international standard ‘PAS 2060’ by the Carbon Trust. This label is based both on ongoing efforts by the company to reduce emissions in its operations and on offset projects into which the company invests.