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The Australian National University

Greenwashing: trademark law, consumer rights and internet domain names



Friday, 27 March 2015 - 1:00pm - 2:30pm


Law Theatre, ANU College of Law, Building 5, Fellows Road, The Australian National University


Dr Matthew Rimmer, ARC Future Fellow, ACIPA, ANU College of Law

Greenwashing is a pernicious problem, which involves misleading and deceptive representations by corporations in respect of the environment. There are a number of legal responses – spanning trade mark law, consumer rights, and internet domain names.

First, this paper considers the role of trade mark law in respect of green branding, environmental messaging, and greenwashing. It considers the action of the United States Patent Trade Mark Office in respect of ‘green’ trade mark applications, which have been descriptive, generic, and misleading. It also examines the response of IP Australia and the High Court of Australia to trade mark applications in respect of the colour ‘Green’. It also highlights the use of certification trade marks to promote credible and authentic eco-labels – such as the Nordic Swan EcoLabel, the Wind-Made Label developed by Vestas and Bloomberg, and the Carbon Trust’s Carbon Footprint. Second, this paper examines the role of consumer regulators in regulating greenwashing, carbon scams, and astroturfing. The Federal Trade Commission in the United States has issued revised ‘Green Guides’ to tackle the problem of greenwashing. There has been a striking complaint by Forest Ethics against the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The ACCC has also developed guidelines in respect of green marketing, and has taken action on occasion. The Advertising Standards Authority in the United Kingdom has also been active in addressing false and misleading advertising. Third, this paper examines the role of Internet Domain Names in respect of environmental communication.

It provides a case study of the successful bid by Big Room in respect of the Dot Eco application.

Dr Matthew Rimmer is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, working on Intellectual Property and Climate Change. He is an associate professor at the ANU College of Law, and an associate director of the Australian Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture (ACIPA). He holds a BA (Hons) and a University Medal in literature, and a LLB (Hons) from the Australian National University, and a PhD (Law) from the University of New South Wales. He is a member of the ANU Climate Change Institute.

Dr Rimmer is the author of Digital Copyright and the Consumer Revolution: Hands off my iPod, Intellectual Property and Biotechnology: Biological Inventions, and Intellectual Property and Climate Change: Inventing Clean Technologies. He is an editor of Patent Law and Biological InventionsIncentives for Global Public Health: Patent Law and Access to Essential Medicines, Intellectual Property and Emerging Technologies: The New Biology, and Indigenous Intellectual Property: A Handbook of Contemporary Research. Rimmer has published widely on copyright law and information technology, patent law and biotechnology, access to medicines, plain packaging of tobacco products, clean technologies, and traditional knowledge. His work is archived at SSRN Abstracts and Bepress Selected Works.


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Updated: 10 December 2015/ Responsible Officer:  Manager, College Outreach & Administrative Support Team / Page Contact:  College Outreach & Administrative Support Team