Commercial Waste and Tarnished Trademarks

16.5.2022 10:05

In this blog, Joonas Vola ponders whether the littering of environment with famous trademarks may cause harm for the reputation or value of a brand. Can the trustworthiness of a product certificate be endangered by relating it to negative activities towards the environmental sustainability in taking account the afterlife of the products?

It is a late spring time again. The snow cover has melted away, and before the green starts to flourish, the ochre and beige ground is marked by ravishing colours and patterns. That is to say, the ground is covered with brands and trademarks, after the long winter.

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A photograph of litter, a paper mug with a brand of a famous fast food restaurant chain.

A brand in marketing and business refers to any feature that distinguishes a seller's goods and services from other sellers. Besides recognition, brand creates and stores value as brand equity: that is a value premium that a company generates by making their product memorable, easily recognizable, and superior in quality and reliability. Running counter to this good reputation, independent from the brand owner’s activity, are infringing a trademark or a trademark dilution, which is an application of a trademark that may weaken the distinctive quality of a famous mark.

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A photograph of litter, a paper cup with a brand of a famous soft drink.

For a trademark to be able to be diluted, it must be a famous “household name”. One form of dilution is known as tarnishment, when unauthorized use of a famous mark is offensive or unflattering, including the use in connection with subject matter critical of or offensive to the mark owner’s beliefs or reputation or attacks the mark owner, its products or services. The requirements for free speech and fair use may allow similar use of the brands for example to produce a parody.

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A photograph of litter, a cardboard wrapping with a trade certificate.

Besides the business brands, a great number of different product certifications are established to qualify that a certain product has passed performance tests and quality assurance tests, and meets qualification criteria stipulated in contracts, regulations, or specifications, concerning for example the environmental impact of the product. As another example, a trade product certification system considers social, economic and environmental aspects of production following the standards for producers and traders, monitors the buying and the selling of the product until it is consumer packaged and labelled, where recycling instructions are supposed to take care of the products afterlife. Any misuse of such certificates may endanger the crucial trust on the significance of the certification system and the processes of qualification.

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A photograph of litter, a cardboard and plastic wrap with an environmental certificate.

In recent year the world wide and well-known brands have reacted to the changed circumstances, customer preferences, and political discourses, and paid effort to establish their business as more ecologically and socially sustainable, for a better future of the planet and its people. It is a shame how the well-established and carefully protected brands, having years of development work and hard labour behind them, are so carelessly littered all around, and end up tarnished in such an unearthly way. Due to such a waste of commercial goods and tarnishing of trademarks with the soil, I would not call the customer service, but I would call on the customers to respect the trademarks, brand equity and the certificates.

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A photograph of litter, a paper cup with a brand of a famous fast food restaurant chain.


Information concerning trademark dilution:
International Trademark Association (2020). Trademark Dilution (Intended for a Non-Legal Audience). Fact Sheet: Protecting a Trademark. [Accessed 11.5.2022]

Information concerning brand equity:
Hayes, Adam (2021). Brand Equity. Investopedia. [Accessed 11.5.2022]

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A photograph of litter, a cigarette box with a brand of a famous tobacco company.

Text and photos by Joonas Vola