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Adopting a Green Trademark, or the Potential Limits of Virtue

Published: Monday, December 4, 2023

Environment issues are of major concern for many people, and many businesses are taking steps to show consumers that they, too, care about these.

If your company has already implemented sustainable practices or is in the midst of doing so, it needs to let current and potential customers know about it. In addition to operational changes, any company’s efforts toward greener practices usually involve deploying a major communications and marketing strategy designed to inform consumers of the steps it is taking to reduce its carbon footprint, water consumption or waste production, for example.

Trademarks are the cornerstones of sound marketing structures. Hence, it is not surprising that more and more businesses use trademarks, including slogans, as a means of suggesting sustainable practices, which include words such as “environment,” “ecological,” “sustainable,” and “green” or even the abbreviation “eco” In Canada, the number of such trademarks across all sectors exceeds 6,500.

Businesses may also use a certification mark to indicate that their goods or services are grown, produced or rendered in an environmentally friendly manner, such as an organic certification logo for example. The right to use a certification mark, however, must first be obtained from the certifying body, which will have undoubtedly already protected it as a certification mark and whose role is not to use it to market goods and services itself, but rather to grant a licence for its use to those who meet its standards.

However, when using green trademarks, care must be taken to avoid the pitfall of greenwashing. This is a misleading marketing practice whereby some businesses rely on environmental concerns to display a greener image and enhance their value, without making actual changes to their practices to benefit the environment. Many laws in Canada prevent misleading marketing. This means that, far from being innocuous, misrepresentations about the energy efficiency of a product or its origin, for example, may lead to sanctions.

Given the number of green trademarks already appearing on the Canadian trademarks register or in use on the market, availability searches should first be conducted before beginning to use any trademark that implies sustainable practices. The mere desire to go green does not automatically mean that communications efforts in this regard will not breach third parties’ pre-existing rights. If availability searches yield favourable results, applying for registration of your green trademark is advisable so as to obtain the exclusive right to use it in Canada.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with our team of trademark professionals. You can rely on its solid expertise to guide you effectively in your strategy to protect your trademarks in Canada and abroad.

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As the partner in charge of BCF’s Trademark group, Johanne Auger supports businesses of all sizes in developing and supervising national and international trademark portfolios. Her global vision of issues, her excellent listening skills and her personalized approach help her develop protection strategies tailored to the realities and needs of each client, whether in Quebec, Canada or worldwide. With more than 25 years of experience in trademark protection, intellectual property management and litigation, Johanne advises start-ups, SMEs and large companies operating in the technology, agri-food, pharmaceutical, tourism, cultural, finance, manufacturing, textiles and retail industries.  An excellent communicator eager to share her knowledge, Johanne regularly gives trademark lectures to various organizations in Europe, Asia and North and South America. She provides customized training to senior management and marketing teams from several companies.  Johanne Auger will be attending the UNIFAB conference in Paris, FR, March 21st to March 22nd, 2024.  Johanne Auger will be attending the International Trademark Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta, GA, May 18th to May 22nd, 2024. 

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