“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.”
In revising the Green Guides, FTC modified and clarified sections of the previous guides and provided new guidance on environmental claims that were not common when the guides were last reviewed.
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’s consumer perception study confirms that such claims are likely to suggest 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 Guides also: advise marketers not to make an unqualified degradable claim for a solid waste product unless they can prove the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within one year after customary disposal; caution 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 clarify guidance on compostable, ozone, recyclable, recycled content and source reduction claims.
The Guides contain new sections on: certifications and seals of approval, carbon offsets, free-of claims, non-toxic claims, made with renewable energy claims and made with renewable materials claims.
The new section on certifications and seals of approval, for example, emphasizes that certifications may be considered endorsements that are 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.
Finally, 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.”