When is “green” really green? – Greenwashing

30 Jun 2010

Being “green” is the new “in” thing. But saying you are green can get you into trouble. While on a recent trip to Northern Michigan, my wife and I saw signs for “green” pet grooming and “green” auto service. Well, can they say that? The answer is governed by Federal law and, of course, depends on what they are doing. The FTC has noted market research showing that over 75% of the public will switch to a brand associated with the environmental protection when price and quality are equal. In 2007, it was reported that American businesses and consumers paid out $54 million for carbon offsets but hardly anyone knows if they actually did reduce carbon emissions.

The Lanham and Federal Trade Commission Acts outlaw deceptive and fraudulent practices. The FTC has issued guidelines and has, in some cases, pursued sanctions against companies that have not been entirely truthful in their environmental claims. This can include such things as hidden trade-offs (paper isn’t necessarily better than plastic); lack of proof (“% of post recycled content”); vagueness (“all natural” “up to 70% recycled content” “green”); false labels (“eco-safe”); irrelevance (CFC or lead free – everything is supposed to be CFC or lead free); a lesser evil (“most efficient in its class”) in addition to flat out lying.

The goals for any company seeking to market itself on its environmental claims should: 1. Be clear and correct; 2. Be specific; 3. Not overstate its claims; 4. Make important distinctions (i.e., if the bottle is recycled but the box it comes in isn’t….); 5. Not make claims without being able to back them up. As your parents told you, “honesty is the best policy”

The FTC is studying the terms “carbon neutral” and “sustainable” and may be promulgating guidance on their use in the near term.

Leave a Comment Below

Leave a Reply