New greenwashing guides for renewable energy

The Federal Trade Commission addresses renewable energy in their greenwashing guidelines for the first time. What does "renewable" mean to you?

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed new marketing guidelines for companies to follow to avoid greenwashing their products. For the first time since their creation in 1992, the guides will address renewable energy claims.

As guidelines, the rules don't really have teeth to enforce company compliance. Nevertheless, maybe marketing folk will do so out of a sense of goodwill, good business, or good old-fashioned guilt. The proposed rules go something like this:

  • Thou shall not make unqualified renewable energy claims if any bit of the product was made via the combustion of fossil fuels.
  • Thou shall not boast carbon offsets if the activity done to achieve the carbon emissions reduction is already required by law.
  • Thou shall keep tidy carbon accounting practices and not sell any one offset multiple times.
  • Thou shall not say your company uses renewable energy, when it is already selling Renewable Energy Credits for all the energy it is generating.
  • The shall specify what type of renewable energy was used (solar, wind, etc.)
  • Thou shall reveal to consumer whether an offset's reduction in carbon emissions does not occur within a two-year span.

The guides are meant to prevent companies from misleading their customers to how environmentally responsible they are. According to EnviroMedia, a social marketing firm for environmental and health issues, one in every ten consumers have complete faith in green marketing claims. (Thou should not be so gullible.) Further, the FTC's consumer perception study suggested many people don't know what "renewable" means when referring to product materials, confusing the term with recyclable, compostable, or made via renewable energy.

EnviroMedia co-founder Kevin Tuerff, who helped create an online Greenwashing Index educating consumers to the telltales of eco-misleading advertising (environmentally-friendly fur coats and the like), said in a statement:

The good news is this could be the end of nonsensical claims like ‘clean coal.' The bad news is the new FTC Green Guides do not address more complicated terms like ‘sustainable.’

The FTC, however, does try to tackle vague claims of "eco-friendliness," "degradable" (plastics even degrade...eventually), "compostable," "recyclable," "non-toxic" and "ozone-safe." As for eco-labels and organic standards, they fall under the dominion of the USDA's National Organic Program.

The new FTC green guides are open to public comment until December 10th.

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Image: Flickr_timotale

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