New Ranking: The Largest Corporate Greenwashing Fines & Settlements

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Posted 1 month ago

New research from plastic pollution prevention startup CleanHub reveals the biggest corporate greenwashing fines and settlements – with Volkswagen’s Dieselgate emissions scandal penalty topping the list at over $34 billion. 

Here are the key findings:

  • The ten corporate fines, settlements, and donations range from the hundreds of thousands to the billions, with all of these taking place in the last 10 years showing how serious the financial implications for greenwashing have become.
  • Car manufacturers Volkswagen (#1) and Toyota (#2) top the list with fines of $34.69 billion and $180 million, respectively, from falsified emissions data and delays to emissions reports. Additionally, the 2014 VW Dieselgate scandal was a landmark first for corporate greenwashing fines of this magnitude.
  • Banking and financial firms DWS (#3), Goldman Sachs (#7), and BNY Mellon (#9) feature throughout due to their misleading ESG funding claims – DWS was fined most at $25 million.
  • Food companies Keurig (#4) and Kohl’s/Walmart (#6) both appear as a result of misleading packaging materials. 
  • Oil company Eni (#5) claims that their palm oil diesel was ‘green’ cost them $5.6 million.
  • While not technically fines, clothing brands H&M and Decathlon made donations to sustainable causes after using unsubstantiated eco-friendly terms on their labels.

Here’s the ranking table of all 10 companies featured (we’ve converted the fines to US dollars for consistency):

RankCompany Fines/Settlements, Donations ($)Reason for fine
1Volkswagen$34.69 billionImplementing software that falsified data and helped evade emissions tests on its vehicles
2Toyota $180 million Delayed sharing of emissions-related reports 
3DWS $25 millionPotentially marketing ESG funds as ‘greener’ than they actually were 
4Keurig $12.2 million Making misleading claims about its single-use coffee pods, suggesting they were recyclable when recyclers don’t widely accept them
5Eni$5.6 millionClaiming its palm oil diesel was ‘green’ 
6Kohl’s & Walmart $5.5 million (combined)Both claimed their products were made from environmentally friendly bamboo when they were made from other materials 
7Goldman Sachs$4 million Failing to follow ESG investment policies and misleading its customers 
8BNY Mellon$1.5 millionFailures to implement ESG policies and overstating the ESG value of its funds
9/10Decathlon & H&M$530,000 and $430,500 (donations)Technically, these were donations made to sustainable causes by the companies due unsubstantiated claims on their labels

The new Cleanhub report aims to help businesses understand greenwashing and the consequences, detailing each company case, highlighting the fines they received, the reasons why, and how they responded. 

Please read it here: https://blog.cleanhub.com/greenwashing-examples

ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) strategy has become a key part of modern businesses, with 98% of CEOs in 2023 stating that it was crucial to their roles. However, as this increases, so do cases of corporate greenwashing

Two-thirds of US businesses admitted to greenwashing last year, which if found guilty, can have dire outcomes including large fines and negative publicity that turns customers off. 9 in 10 consumers recently stated that it’s important to them for businesses to act in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

Authorities worldwide are introducing more legislation and penalties to deal with greenwashing. At the start of 2024, the European Union adopted a new lawto stop these practices. In October 2023, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission imposed harsher reporting standards around ESG funds, and in November, the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published it’s new general anti-greenwashing rule that requires financial firms to ensure that their labelling is fair, clear and not misleading.

CleanHub’s Vice President of Marketing, Nikki Stones, had this to say on the rankings:

“Given how substantial these fines are, it’s clear that regulators are trying to send a message to companies. The days of quiet punishments are over when it comes to greenwashing — brands that intentionally mislead consumers over green initiatives will be severely penalised moving forward.

We expect to see more greenwashing fines in the coming years too, with new EU legislation on the horizon. To swerve these penalties, companies need to make sure all of their environmental claims and initiatives are transparent, truthful, and are backed up with evidence.”