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Carbon neutral?: Danone faces lawsuit questioning Evian water claim

A judge in New York ruled on Wednesday that Danone must face a lawsuit challenging its “carbon neutral” claim on bottles of Evian spring water.

Consumers in the proposed class action said they would not have bought Evian had they known that Danone’s manufacturing process allowed the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or otherwise caused pollution.

In a 30-page decision, US District Judge Nelson Roman in White Plains, New York, called “carbon neutral” an ambiguous term that confuses consumers, and said Danone “expects too much” for them to learn what it meant from Evian’s labels.

The plaintiffs, Stephanie Dorris of California and John Axiotakis of Massachusetts, said they paid premium prices for Evian in 2022, mistakenly believing that the “carbon neutral” claim meant the water was more environmentally friendly.

Roman said the plaintiffs may pursue fraud, unjust enrichment and breach of express warranty claims, and claims under California and Massachusetts consumer protection laws.

He dismissed claims under comparable New York laws, but said the plaintiffs may amend their complaint.

Neither Danone nor its lawyers immediately responded to requests for comment. Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to similar requests.

Danone’s products also include Dannon, Oikos and Activia yogurt.

The lawsuit is among hundreds of proposed class actions filed annually against food producers, often challenging the precision of their labels.

Dorris and Axiotakis had cited Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defining “carbon neutral” as “having or resulting in no net addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.”

Danone said its use of the term reflected a certification from the independent Carbon Trust, and that the plaintiffs’ view defied science and common sense.

Roman called it premature to decide who was right.

“Rather than possessing a common, everyday meaning, the term ‘carbon neutral’ is more technical and scientific,” he wrote. “Consumers thus may reasonably become confused … if it has not previously been explicitly defined for them – as in, before seeing it on the product’s label.”

Danone is based in Paris. Its North American headquarters are in White Plains.

The case is Dorris et al v Danone Waters of America, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 22-08717.

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