Sarah Dadush


In September 2015, the world learned that Volkswagen had rigged millions of its "clean diesel" vehicles with illegal software designed to cheat emissions tests. Contrary to what had been advertised, the vehicles are anything but clean. When affected owners learned that their cars were toxic, what were they most upset about? Was it that their cars were now worth fewer dollars? Or that they had been deceived into being hyperpolluting drivers, when they thought they were being green? Coverage of the emissions scandal strongly suggests that affected car owners experienced both kinds of disappointment, economic and noneconomic, and in heavy doses at that. But while the first kind of harm is relatively easy to recognize and address, this Article shows that our protective regime is ill-equipped to shield consumers from the second, a kind of "identity harm." Identity harm refers to the anguish experienced by a consumer who learns that her efforts to consume in line with her personal values have been undermined by a business's exaggerated or false promises about its wares. While a range of (broken) promises can elicit identity harm, this Article focuses on a particularly important and fast-growing category of promises pertaining to environmental and social sustainability. As the first in a series on the subject, this Article introduces identity harm and argues for its deeper legal recognition.