New FTC “Greenwashing” Guidance

4 Oct 2012

In 2010, I posted about greenwashing and the Federal Trade Commission’s  (FTC)  proposed response to it.  This week, the FTC  issued revisions to its “Green Guides” to help marketers ensure that their environmental claims are not deceptive.

FTC’s revisions include updates to the existing Guides, as well as new sections on carbon offsets, “green” certifications and seals, renewable energy and renewable materials claims.  The FTC modified and clarified the previous Guides and provided new guidance on environmental claims that were not common when the Guides were last reviewed.

The Guides warn against broad, unqualified claims that a product is “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly” and also:

• advise not to make unqualified claims about a product’s waste degradability unless they can prove that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within one year after typical disposal – in particular the FTC took the position that items destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities will not degrade within a year; and

• clarified guidance on compostable, ozone, recyclable, recycled content, and source reduction claims. For example, just because something may be technically compostable, does not mean that it should be touted as such – if an average person cannot compost it with the rest of their compostables.

The Guides contain new sections on: (1) certifications and seals of approval; (2) carbon offsets, (3) “free-of” claims, (4) non-toxic claims, (5) “made with renewable energy” claims; and (6) “made with renewable materials” claims.

Certifications and seals may be considered endorsements covered by the FTC’s Endorsement Guides.  The FTC also cautions against using environmental certifications or seals that don’t clearly convey the basis for the certification.  The Guides don’t address use of “sustainable,” “natural,” and “organic.” Some organic claims are covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.

The FTC also released other resources to help explain the Guides, including a 4 page summary and a video.

It is more important than ever to be sure that you claims comply as the FTC has shown that it is willing to bring enforcement actions based on dicey or unsupportable environmental claims.

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