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As the body of greenwashing litigation grows globally, New York’s Attorney General added a major case to the pile with a lawsuit against the world’s largest beef producer JBS. The case calls JBS’s climate messaging into question as the AG sees the company’s net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 goal as directly conflicting with the company’s plans to ramp up production. A press release from the New York AG states:

“JBS Group and JBS USA repeatedly misled consumers with these claims while the company’s executives told their industry peers that they needed to use messaging targeted to climate-conscious consumers in order to remain competitive. In reality, when making these promises, JBS Group and JBS USA had not calculated the company’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore had no way of knowing whether they could successfully reduce those emissions to net zero by 2040.”

The press release also states that the AG will seek to enjoin the company from future advertising based on greenwashing, and force JBS to pay disgorgement of all ill-gotten profits as well as penalties. The allegation that JBS has not calculated its GHG emissions is a major sticking point of the AG’s argument. But that appears inaccurate – the company’s Energy and Emissions webpage (specifically, the table named Greenhouse Gas Performance) makes it clear that the company has indeed calculated Scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions since at least 2019. The press release makes no reference to, nor rebuts, that information.

The case also raises some interesting questions about the nature of forward looking statements. Generally, a forward looking statement is considered safer than a historical statement because the promises made in the statement haven’t happened yet. This makes it very difficult to litigate against because there is no proof that the statement is false or misleading. However, the New York AG assumes that given JBS’s position today, their climate goals of 30% reduction in GHGs by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2040 are false and misleading. Yes, the AG could be correct that a company who hasn’t yet calculated its emissions cannot meet these targets, but that isn’t a certainty. Some may liken this enforcement to the plot of the Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller “Minority Report” (or the Phillip K. Dick novella on which it is based if you’re a stickler) – effectively the New York AG is trying to “stop greenwashing before it happens.”

We frequently talk about the need for companies to support sustainability advertising with facts. In the case of JBS, there appears to have been a major push to market sustainability. The NY AG argues that the company never actually invested in sustainability practices behind its climate messaging. This is another reminder that companies need to lead with high-quality ESG programs, not marketing claims – and be effective and clear in their communications.

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Photo credit: Rafael Henrique –

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The Editor

Zachary Barlow is a licensed attorney. He earned his JD from the University of Mississippi and has a bachelor’s in Public Policy Leadership. He practiced law at a mid-size firm and handled a wide variety of cases. During this time he assisted in overseeing compliance of a public entity and litigated contract disputes, gaining experience both in and outside of the courtroom. Zachary currently assists the editorial team by providing research and creating content on a spectrum of ESG… View Profile