Clearing up Environmental Claims

Doc is sometimes frustrated by claims companies make about the "green-ness" of their products or services. Seems the Federal Trade Commission is, too. The FTC recently proposed revisions to the guidance that it gives marketers to help them avoid making misleading environmental claims. The proposed changes are designed to update the Guides and make them easier for companies to understand and use.

Doc is sometimes frustrated by claims companies make about the "green-ness" of their products or services. Seems the Federal Trade Commission is, too. The FTC recently proposed revisions to the guidance that it gives marketers to help them avoid making misleading environmental claims. The proposed changes are designed to update the Guides and make them easier for companies to understand and use.

The changes to the "Green Guides" include new guidance on marketers' use of product certifications and seals of approval, "renewable energy" claims, "renewable materials" claims, and "carbon offset" claims. The FTC was seeking public comments on the proposed changes until December 10, 2010, after which it will decide which changes to make final.

"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."

Proposed Revisions to the Guides The revised Guides caution marketers not to make blanket, general claims that a product is "environmentally friendly" or "eco-friendly" because the FTC's consumer perception study confirms that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate.

The proposed Guides also caution marketers not to use unqualified certifications or seals of approval – those that do not specify the basis for the certification. The Guides more prominently state that unqualified product certifications and seals of approval likely constitute general environmental benefit claims, and they advise marketers that the qualifications they apply to certifications or seals should be clear, prominent, and specific.

There's a lot more to the Guides and what the FTC is doing to help define green – you can find out more by downloading the full Guide here.