FTC Will Revise “Green” Product Claims Guide

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has purposed revisions to the agency’s “Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims,” commonly known as the Green Guides. The guides were developed to help marketers avoid making misleading product and environmental claims, and provide specific guidance about certain green claims.

During the FTC regulatory review of the “Green Guides,” they examined the developments in green packaging claims and the consumer perception of such claims. Additionally, the FTC sought public comment on the Guides, hosted three public workshops, and conducted a consumer perception study. The FTC now proposes revisions to the Guides and seeks comment on these proposed revisions. Comments must be received by December 10, 2010.

“In recent years, businesses have increasingly used ‘green’ marketing to capture consumers’ attention and move Americans toward a more environmentally friendly future. But what companies think green claims mean and what consumers really understand are sometimes two different things,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “The proposed updates to the Green Guides will help businesses better align their product claims with consumer expectations.”

These guides apply to ”green” claims included in labeling, advertising, promotional materials and all other forms of marketing, whether asserted directly or by implication, through words, symbols, emblems, logos, depictions, product brand names, or through any other means, including marketing through digital or electronic means, such as the Internet or electronic mail.

The following is an outline of the proposed revisions to the “Green Guides”:

General Environmental Benefit (e.g., “green,” “eco-friendly”)

  • Marketers should not make unqualified general environmental benefit claims.
  • Qualifications should be clear and prominent, and should limit the claim to a specific benefit. Marketers should ensure the advertisement’s context does not imply deceptive environmental claims.

Certifications and Seals of Approval

  • Certifications/seals are endorsements covered by the Commission’s Endorsement Guides and marketers should disclose material connections to the certifier.
  • Marketers should use clear and prominent language limiting the claim to particular attribute(s) for which they have substantiation.
  • Third-party certification does not eliminate a marketer’s obligation to have substantiation for all conveyed claims.

Degradable

  • Products should not be labeled “Degradable” unless complete decomposition occurs no more than one year after customary disposal.
  • Marketers should not make unqualified degradable claims for items destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities because decomposition will not occur within one year.

Recyclable

  • If a “Substantial majority” of consumers/communities have access to recycling facilities — Marketer can make an unqualified recyclable claim.

Free Of

  • Even if true, claims that an item is free-of a substance may be considered deceptive if: (1) the item has substances that pose the same or similar environmental risk as the substance not present; and (2) the substance has never been associated with the product category.

Non-toxic

  • Such claims likely convey that an item is non-toxic both for humans and for the environment generally.

Made with Renewable Materials

  • Marketers should qualify claims with specific information about the renewable material (what it is; how it is sourced; why it is renewable).
  • Additionally, marketers should qualify renewable materials claims if the item is not made entirely with renewable materials (excluding minor, incidental components).

Made with Renewable Energy

  • Marketers should not make unqualified renewable energy claims if the power used to manufacture any part of the product was derived from fossil fuels.
  • Marketers should qualify claims by specifying the source of renewable energy (e.g., wind or solar). Additionally, marketers should qualify claims if less than all, or virtually all, of the significant manufacturing processes involved in making the product/package were powered with renewable energy or conventional energy offset by renewable energy certificates (“RECs”).

Carbon Offsets

  • Marketers should have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support their carbon offset claims.
  • Marketers should not advertise a carbon offset if the activity that forms the basis of the offset is already required by law.

Currently, the terms “natural” and “organic” are frequently used in green marketing.  However, the revisions do not address these marketing terms because either the FTC lacks a sufficient basis to provide meaningful guidance or because the FTC wants to avoid proposing guidance that duplicates rules or guidance of other agencies.

The guides represent administrative interpretations of laws administered by the FTC and provide the basis for voluntary compliance. If companies do not comply it may result in corrective action by the FTC. However, the guides are not legislative rules or are they enforceable regulations that preempt regulation of other agencies.

As noted, the FTC is seeking comments on all aspects of its proposal until Dec. 10, 2010, after which it will decide which changes to make final. Parties interested can submit comments in paper form by following the instructions in the “Request for Comment” section of the Federal Register notice. Comments can also be submitted electronically at https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/revisedgreenguides.

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Posted by on Oct 20th, 2010 and filed under NEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Responses for “FTC Will Revise “Green” Product Claims Guide”

  1. Sue Ingram says:

    This has been very informative. We have focussed as best we could on being as green as possible in our sunscreen packaging but have not highlighted this in any way in our marketing. It’s good to see people becoming more and more aware and such things as Green Guides will help even more.
    Thank you

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