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Greenwashing and the First Amendment

Sarah E. Light, Mitchell J. Blutt and Margo Krody Blutt Presidential Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Apr 22 2024 | 11:00am - 12:00pm PT Online / Bren Hall 1414

Headshot of Sarah Light
Sarah E. Light

Professor Sarah Light is the leading environmental law professor of her generation. A Rhodes Scholar, her broad-ranging scholarship has offered important insights on the law and policy of greenwashing, insuring nature, private environmental governance, and many other topics. This is a great chance to hear from a creative and engaging scholar.
—Jim Salzman, Professor, Bren School


Professor Light will be presenting remotely. Join us for viewing and interactive Q&A in Bren Hall 1414, or watch online using this link and passcode law

Please note this talk will not be recorded.


Recent explosive growth in environmental and climate-related marketing claims by business firms has raised concerns about the truthfulness of these claims. Critics argue (or at least question whether) such claims constitute greenwashing, which refers to a set of deceptive marketing practices in which an entity publicly misrepresents or exaggerates the positive environmental impact of a product, a service, or the entity itself. The extent to which greenwashing can be regulated consistent with the First Amendment raises thorny doctrinal questions that have bedeviled both courts and scholars. The answers to these questions have implications far beyond environmental marketing claims. This Essay is the first to offer both doctrinal clarity and a normative approach to understanding how the First Amendment should tackle issues at the nexus of science, politics, and markets. It contends that the analysis should be driven by the normative values underlying the protection of speech under the First Amendment in the disparate doctrines that govern these three arenas. When listeners are epistemically dependent for information on commercial speakers, regulation of such speech for truthfulness is consistent with the First Amendment and subject to the laxer review of the commercial speech doctrine. This is because citizens must have accurate information not only to knowledgeably participate at the ballot box but also to have meaningful freedom in economic life itself.


Sarah E. Light is the Mitchell J. Blutt and Margo Krody Blutt Presidential Professor, and Professor of Legal Studies & Business Ethics at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Light serves as co-Faculty Director of the Wharton Climate Center. Professor Light has taught courses related to Environmental Management, Law, and Policy as well as Negotiation during her time at Wharton. Professor Light has received numerous teaching awards for MBA and undergraduate teaching.

Prior to joining the Wharton faculty, Professor Light served for ten years as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, including four years as Chief of the Environmental Protection Unit. Professor Light earned her J.D. from Yale Law School, an M. Phil in Politics from Oxford University where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and an A.B. from Harvard College.

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