If you have aspirational green goals and want to communicate them to your customers, you might want to take a second look at your green promises because how you handle environmental claims could obstruct your sustainability aspirations. The State of New York is taking action against the meatpacking giant JBS USA Food Company for its “Net Zero by 2040” claim. This demonstrates a growing scrutiny of aspirational environmental claims and a commitment to holding companies accountable for their sustainability promises. Currently, the FTC does not provide guidance on claims like Net Zero, and regulators like the BBB National Programs’ National Advertising Division (NAD) and the State of New York have stepped in to keep companies in check.

“We must have zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing.”

—António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The Net Zero Aspiration

Companies use the net zero claim to show they are committed to cutting and removing carbon emissions to curb future global warming. The international target is to attain net zero by 2050 to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of restricting global warming to 1.5 degrees. 

Unfortunately, without efforts backed by science-based evidence and setting and meeting short- and medium-term goals, net zero becomes merely an aspiration and is ripe for scrutiny by regulators and lawsuits. Therefore, if your company hopes to achieve net zero emissions in the future, you must have evidence that you are taking steps to reach this aspirational goal before you make your claim.

“Bacon, chicken wings and steak with net zero emissions.” Is It Possible? 

JBS US, the American subsidiary of the world’s largest meat producer, has been under investigation for its “Net-Zero by 2040” claim. In June 2023, the NAD recommended that JBS discontinue its net zero claims. These claims included: 

  • “JBS is committing to be net zero by 2040”;
  • “Global Commitment to Achieve Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2040”;
  • “Bacon, chicken wings and steak with net zero emissions. It’s possible;” 
  • “Leading change across the food industry and achieving our goal of net zero by 2040 will be a challenge. Anything less is not an option.” 

JBS argues it has until 2040, giving it enough time to reach its net zero goals. They believe that consumers will understand there is no certainty that this aspirational claim will be realized anytime soon. Both the NAD and the State of New York disagreed.

Aspirational Claims are a Challenge

NAD’s recommendations determined that JBS needed to back its aspirational claims with more evidence and support net zero claims with “specific objective and measurable outcomes”  and foundational actions.  Additionally, NAD noted that an aspirational claim creates reasonable consumer expectations. 

After its unsuccessful appeal, JBS complied with the recommendations. The National Appellate Review Board (NARB) noted that it could present the following individual claim in isolation: 

“Leading change across the food industry and achieving our goal of net zero by 2040 will be a challenge.” 

Any narrow and truthful claims made by JBS regarding research or efforts to reduce emissions would also be allowable.

JBS changed the look of its website and now lists its “Five Initial Steps to Reach Net Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2040.” Additionally, it now calls its claim a “Net Zero by 2040 Ambition.” These changes were not enough for New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who sued JBS US for misleading the public with its green claim. JBS may have changed the wording of its claim, but the calculations still don’t add up to “net” zero.  

Increased Production Does Not Add up to Net Zero

According to the New York State lawsuit, JBS continued making net zero claims after agreeing to NAD’s recommendation, including telling an audience at an NYC Climate Week event that they “pledged to be Net Zero in 2040.” New York State says this claim is incompatible with the company’s plans to increase its production and carbon footprint. The JBS parent company, based in Brazil, already has reported total global greenhouse gas emissions of over 71 million tons. New York State claims that because the company had not calculated its total carbon emissions, which included those resulting from deforestation in the Amazon, it has no way of knowing whether it can reduce those emissions to net zero by 2040. 

The New York State lawsuit seeks JBS USA to stop its false and misleading marketing practices and pay penalties of at least $5,000 per violation as determined at the trial. 

Stay on Top of Litigation

In addition to Net Zero, other aspirational claims like “recycle more” and “generate less waste” can lead to reputational risk and litigation. Don’t get caught up in the web of aspirational claims. Softly can help you navigate risk with its marketing claims risk analysis. 


Navigate regulations with confidence! See how Softly’s green claims analysis and monitoring service can help protect your business.


Aspirational and Net Zero Claims Takeaways

Other Cases Related to Net Zero Claims

Net Zero claims are not addressed in the FTC Green Guides, but climate-related litigation is increasing. Follow these class action lawsuits to stay on top of it.

Danone Waters (Evian Brand)

Dorris et al. v. Danone Waters of America

  • Carbon neutral claim certified by a third party
  • Judge denies dismissal, stating that Carbon Neutral is an ambiguous term
  • Jury trial is pending

Delta Airlines

Berrin et al. v. Delta Air Lines Inc.

  • Airline falsely advertised that it is carbon neutral
  • Delta claims it is transitioning away from carbon offsets and focusing on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)
  • Pending


References

  1. JBS Appeals NAD Recommendation to Discontinue “Net Zero” Claims
  2. “Aspirational” Claims: An Alternative To Greenhushing? – Advertising, Marketing & Branding – United States?
  3. NARB Recommends JBS Discontinue “Net Zero” Emissions by 2040 Claims
  4. Attorney General James Sues World’s Largest Beef Producer for Misrepresenting Environmental Impact of Their Products
  5. The People of the State of New York vs. JBS USA Food Company
  6. https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/airline-news/2023/05/31/delta-air-lines-sustainability-class-action-law-suit/70274562007/


Information provided is for general purposes only, not legal advice; consult a qualified attorney for personalized guidance. Softly disclaims any liability for actions based on this information.

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