The first Earth Day took place in 1970, with organized groups in Los Angeles, Chicago, and many other American cities. Founded by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, this now global event helped launch the modern environmental activism movement. Over the past 51 years the focus has grown from generating environmental awareness to spurring action for our natural resources. An early proponent of environmental care, Nelson paved the way for the widespread environmental protection measures that we see today.
On almost any store shelf, there are trademarked goods related to Earth Day causes. There are several brands that dedicate their mission to being environmentally conscious. Patagonia and Seventh Generation are great examples of these types of brands. Interestingly, there are also a variety of protected labels, certifications, and other groups that promote sustainability.
Business and Planet
For instance, the movement “1% For the Planet” is a protected mark. The entity behind the mark works to connect businesses and environmental nonprofits to bring awareness and funding to protect natural resources. The name originates from businesses’ commitment to give 1% of gross sales each year to support the partner nonprofits. Many of these businesses are then able to use the 1% For the Planet mark to help strengthen their identity as an environmentally caring brand. The model is a win-win for business and the planet! Another example is Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The organization certifies sustainable foresting practices, which include biodiversity programs, water use measures, and forest health. Products such as paper bags and lumber use the protected mark.
Lastly, a popular nonprofit engaging with several businesses around the world is One Tree Planted. With a focus on global reforestation, the group makes partnership opportunities easy with different models centered on planting trees. Businesses can adopt the “One for One” where a chosen action, such as product sold, represents a tree. Individuals, teachers, and students, can also participate in tree planting opportunities on a smaller level. One Tree Planted is an internationally recognized organization with a large list of dedicated partners. Reforestation efforts significantly protect air, water, and climate, as well as improve social and health related concerns. One Tree Planted’s trademarked text and design represents their dedication to reforestation. Moreover, the mark’s placement on partnered organizations signifies a concrete promise to dedicate time and resources to planting trees.
“Greenwashing”: How does it affect me?
The increase of “green” and environmentally conscious protected intellectual property has gone hand-in-hand with the rise of the practice known as greenwashing. This is often seen when brands make misleading or false claims that their product or service is eco-friendly. Greenwashing is not only questionable from an environmental protection perspective, but it has grown into a major consumer protection concern. The U.S. Trademark Office has increasingly refused to grant registration to “green” trademarks. Marks like these originally faced hurdles to registration based on descriptiveness grounds but more recently are facing refusal on the basis of deceptiveness. These objections can be especially difficult to overcome when applicants do not fully think these issues through in the initial filing strategy for a trademark application.
When it comes to deceptiveness considerations, brands can refer to the FTC’s Green Guides. Titled “Guides For The Use Of Environmental Marketing Claims” in 1992, the updated versions provide guidelines on how to market environmental claims and how to “avoid consumer deception” [Federal Trade Commission, 75 Fed. Reg. 63,552 (Oct. 15, 2010) (codified at 16 C.F.R. pt. 260)]. Over the past several years, the issues of greenwashing and ethical environmental marketing claims have grown into a substantial topic within the intellectual property community. Brand owners must always be aware of any possible sustainable implications in their mark and communicate to consumers properly. More importantly, those seeking environmental claims should be prepared to provide substantiation of any environmental claims that their marks and/or branding imply.
2020 marked an impressive fifty years of Earth Day. Each year it becomes even more imperative to include sustainability in our lives. Whether through economic partnerships or individual lifestyles, we hope to continue protecting and enjoying our great earth.
– Rina Van Orden, Esq. & Lily Taggart