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Nike faces class-action lawsuit accusing it of greenwashing

Illustrative image: Kidney Stone / Shutterstock

The movie Air dramatizes the risks that Nike took when signing Michael Jordan as their anchor athlete. Beyond sustaining the brand, Jordan transformed the corporation into a global capitalist phenomenon that shot across the market skies like a flying meteor, transforming how humans consumed textiles for their feet and kicking off the sneaker-head culture. Nike has survived several lawsuits over labor practices. Recently, a new class action lawsuit, filed in Missouri by Maria Guadalupe Ellis [], calls into question what is sustainable about Nike's Green products line.

"This action seeks to remedy the unlawful, unfair, deceptive, and misleading business practices of Nike with respect to the marketing and sale the Products, which are sold throughout the State of Missouri and the United States. In an effort to increase profits and to gain an advantage over its lawfully acting competitors, Nike falsely and misleadingly markets the Products as 'sustainable,' made with 'sustainable materials,' and environmentally friendly. The labeling of the Products claims the following: "\'Sustainability;' 'made with recycled fibers' which 'reduces waste and our carbon footprint;' support a 'Move to Zero' which "'s Nike's journey toward zero carbon and zero waste to help protect the future of sport;' and contain a circular symbol that means that the Products are made with 'sustainable' and environmentally friendly materials."

As reported in The Street, "The lawsuit also states that the actual act of selling products cited as eco-friendly is a violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. It also cites the Federal Trade Commission's Green Guides, which lays out the standards to earn green-friendly status and what actions may be determined as deceptive advertising on corporate environmentally-friendly claims."

What does this mean for consumers and the company? According to John Conway, Astonish Media Group's CEO, as reported in Retail Dive, "Your readers in the apparel industry need to watch this, and watch this closely. If the courts determine that these recycled fibers — assuming the company's using them — are not sustainable materials, that throws out their entire sustainability argument, as long as they're using, essentially, polyester."

What are the money numbers on this profit machine? "The company sold $100m worth of trainers and clothing in 1986 alone. And the Air Jordan became central to what is known as 'sneakerhead culture,' with the rarest iterations selling for more than a million dollars at auction. In 2021, the Jordan brand revenue hit $4.8bn.

The "patent machine" Nike is also currently on the litigation offensive against several companies, for example, suing the Japanese streetwear company The Bathing Ape, known as BAPE, for trademark infringement. BAPE responded here. Check out this Business Insider article that examines all of Nike's current litigation, including lawsuits against Lululemon, Gnarcotic, Kool Kiy, StockX, Drip Creationz, KickRich, MSCHF, John Geiger, and Warren Lotas.

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