The Federal Trade Commission has issued revised “Green Guides” designed to help marketers ensure that claims regarding the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and non-deceptive. The revisions include updates to the existing Guides, as well as new sections on the use of carbon offsets, “green” certifications and seals, and renewable energy and renewable materials claims.
“The introduction of environmentally friendly products into the marketplace is a win for consumers who want to purchase greener products and producers who want to sell them,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “But this win-win can only occur if marketers’ claims are truthful and substantiated. The FTC’s changes to the Green Guides will level the playing field for honest business people and it is one reason why we had such broad support.”
The FTC first issued its Green Guides in 1992 to help marketers avoid making misleading environmental claims, with subsequent revisions in 1996 and 1998. The guidance they provide includes:
- general principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims;
- how consumers are likely to interpret particular claims, and how marketers can substantiate these claims; and
- how marketers can qualify their claims to avoid deceiving consumers.
Significantly, either because the FTC lacks a sufficient basis to provide meaningful guidance or wants to avoid proposing guidance that duplicates or contradicts rules or guidance of other agencies, the Guides do not address use of the terms “sustainable,” “natural,” and “organic.”
Revisions. Among other modifications, the Guides caution marketers not to make broad, unqualified claims that a product is “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly” because the FTC states that perception study show that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. Additional revisions include:
- advising marketers not to make an unqualified degradable claim for a solid waste product unless they can prove that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within one year after customary disposal;
- cautioning that items destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities will not degrade within a year, so marketers should not make unqualified degradable claims for these items; and
- clarifying guidance on compostable, ozone, recyclable, recycled content, and source reduction claims.
New Sections. 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.
The new section on certifications and seals of approval, for example, emphasizes that certifications and seals may be considered endorsements covered by the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, and includes examples that illustrate how marketers could disclose a “material connection” that might affect the weight or credibility of an endorsement. In addition, the Guides caution marketers not to use environmental certifications or seals that don’t clearly convey the basis for the certification, because such seals or certifications are likely to convey general environmental benefits.