FTC Revises Eco Marketing Guidelines

12 Oct

[Reprinted from Counselor® PromoGram® Volume 755 / October 12, 2010, from the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI)]

Aiming to crack down on misleading environmental claims, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released changes to long-standing marketing guidelines, cautioning companies against exaggerated and generalized advertising. Within the body of the updated rules, called Green Guides, the FTC has tried to clarify the appropriate use of product certifications, terms such as “renewable energy” and “carbon offset,” and certain seals of approval. “In recent years, businesses have increasingly used ‘green’ marketing to capture consumers’ attention and move Americans toward a more environmentally friendly future,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “But what companies think green claims mean and what consumers really understand are sometimes two different things.”

The new guidelines, which are the first FTC-issued changes on the topic since 1998, strongly urge companies to show “competent and reliable scientific evidence” if they make claims of environmental benefits tied to their products. In a specific change, the FTC warns companies not to make claims that products are made with “renewable materials” or “renewable energy” when any oil, coal or other fossil fuel was used in the manufacturing process. The FTC’s new guidelines also steer marketers away from using terms such as “eco-friendly” and “environmentally-friendly” in their promotional efforts because they are too broad and vague in scope.

The updated guidelines are just the latest action by the FTC to more tightly scrutinize greenwashing, a term used to describe unsubstantiated environmental claims about products. Since last year in fact, the FTC has filed a series of complaints regarding the validity of supposed biodegradable products and the environmental benefits of bamboo-based clothing. For example, last August, four non-industry apparel manufacturers were highlighted by the FTC for deceptive marketing practices related to the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act.

While enforcement by the FTC is becoming more stringent, companies still aren’t required by law to follow the Green Guides. If a company uses a pattern of marketing deception, however, the FTC is pledging to take action. “We’re going to go after them, and we’ll put them under order,” said Leibowitz.

The new Green Guides, which the public can comment on until December 10, can be found at www.ftc.gov.


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