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Following through with Corporate Social Responsibility

by | Aug 30, 2019 | Intellectual Property

Following through with Corporate Social Responsibility

Written by Guest Author, Summer Law Clerk Kendall Mabry

61% of consumers say they would switch to a brand that is more environmentally friendly than their current brand of choice. 

70% are willing to spend more money on brands that support causes or are conscious about issues they care about. 

And a whopping 81% feel that companies should try to improve the environment.

This desire for corporate social responsibility shows no sign of slowing down, and many brands are stepping up to meet the business opportunity.

For example, the apparel brand Patagonia has pledged 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the environment since 1985. The brand also recently implemented a “Worn Wear” program to reduce the amount of textiles in landfills and the related carbon, water, and waste footprints of creating new clothing. 

Another example is Love Beauty and Planet. The hair, skin, and now home product brand is entirely based around sourcing their ingredients responsibly, reducing plastic waste and carbon footprints, saving water, and supporting young environmentalists. 

This is a positive development for environmental and social causes because brands and consumers are engaged in a cycle of mutual influence. Consumer choices drive brand characteristics, and what brands offer determines the options available. 

Intellectual property (IP) plays a key role in this cycle of influence.

Brand Trust vs. Anti-IP Sentiment

Trademarks allow consumers to make quick decisions based on their trust of a particular brand. They serve as sources of information, and brands deliver the information. But these roles are being diminished in the market, partially through misinformation.  

As trust is becoming a top factor influencing consumers’ purchasing decisions, an anti-IP sentiment is a conflicting development. The public views IP as a way for a company to increase wealth at the consumer’s expense. 

So brands are trying to combat this anti-IP sentiment through corporate social responsibility, conveyed through trademarks, copyrights, branding, and marketing. 

The Rise of Green Trademarks and Greenwashing

Companies have started filing so-called green trademarks to designate a product line – or even entire brand – as environmentally friendly. Since purchasing decisions are at least partially based on social responsibility, consumers have responded positively.

However, if brands fail to “practice what they preach” regarding their claimed social or environmental responsibility and consciousness, they can lose customers as well as respect. Green trademarks have been intensely scrutinized by the FTC, USPTO, consumers, and competitors for “greenwashing.” 

Greenwashing means making misleading claims about a product or a brand’s stance on sustainability issues. To avoid greenwashing, brands should provide evidence to back their claims of social and environmental benefits, paying attention to the FTC’s regulations on false and deceptive advertising.

Many companies make the mistake of using ambiguous, fluffy language to dance around the fact that science does not back up their social or environmental claims. However, this opens up companies to federal and state liability, as well as the court of public opinion, which can be just as damaging as an actual lawsuit. 

To combat public uproar, companies should use IP and legal professionals to ensure consistency and reliability in the company’s social responsibility statements.

Intellectual property can boost consumers’ trust in a brand, but only when used correctly. It is irreplaceable as a way to reach a larger consumer base and to effectively communicate the social and environmental responsibilities brands aim to support. 

  1. According to a 2019 Report by GlobalWebIndex
  2. According to a 2017 study from Cone Communications. Lossignol, David, Brands for a Better Society, World Intellectual Property Review WIPR 2019 Annual, page 10, (March/April 2019)
  3. According to a 2018 survey by Nielsen. A Wake-Up Call for Brands, INTA Daily News, p.6 (May 20, 2019).
  4. Practicing What You Preach, INTA Daily News, p.2 (May 22, 2019). 



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