In a recent case evaluating aspirational environmental benefit claims, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (“IATP”) challenged claims made by JBS USA Holdings, Inc., a global food company, surrounding its proclaimed commitment to be “net zero by 2040.” The claims included, for example, “Global Commitment to Achieve Net - Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2040,” “bacon, chicken wings and steak with net zero emissions. It’s possible” and “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.”
IATP took issue with the claims, arguing that they were misleading because they conveyed a message that JBS has an “operational plan in place to achieve its net zero goals and is implementing such a plan,” whereas JBS contended that the claims are aspirational and therefore not intended to communicate a “present-tense message” that the claimed benefits are currently available.
NAD ultimately recommended that JBS discontinue the claims at issue (acknowledging that some had been voluntarily discontinued during the pendency of the challenge). In its decision, NAD emphasized its findings from prior cases regarding aspirational environmental benefit claims, noting that such claims “may reasonably convey different messages to consumers” and “the question comes down to what, if any, particular expectations are created.” Specifically, NAD noted that “when aspirational claims are tied to measurable outcomes, an advertiser must be able to demonstrate that its goals and aspirations are not merely illusory and to provide evidence of the steps it is taking to reach its stated goal.”
Here, NAD found that the messages reasonably conveyed by JBS’s claims were that JBS is acting toward specific objectives and measurable outcomes and that JBS has plans in place that result in the achievement of its goals by the timelines described. While NAD acknowledged that the supporting materials provided by JBS (including things like research commitments, partnerships with experts, and proposals in connection with the Carbon Trust Advisory) demonstrated it is taking certain steps which may be helpful towards achieving their goals (and showed that JBS has undertaken steps to begin learning how to address the challenges it will face in achieving those goals), it did not include operational plans with specific objectives and measurable outcomes likely to be achieved, as needed to support the board messages conveyed.
JBS USA Holdings, Inc. (Net Zero 2040), Report #7135, NAD/CARU Case Reports (February 2023).
“when aspirational claims are tied to measurable outcomes, an advertiser must be able to demonstrate that its goals and aspirations are not merely illusory and to provide evidence of the steps it is taking to reach its stated goal.”