Tag Archives: Green Guides

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.


FTC Proposes New Green Marketing Rules

26 Aug

[reprint of report in Counselor® PromoGram® Volume 742 / August 26, 2010]

In an effort to protect consumers from exaggerated advertising claims, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is considering tight regulations on how marketers use words like “recyclable,” biodegradable” and “carbon neutral.” The rules, also known as Green Guides, could affect more than 300 environmental seals of approval on current products, possibly making those environmentally-friendly claims in violation of government standards. Besides updating those standards, the rules would also more clearly define how companies can back up their claims of environmental sustainability.

The updated regulations will continue a recent trend of more aggressive enforcement of eco-friendly-related advertising. During the past two years, the FTC has brought seven environmental advertising enforcement actions, compared to zero during the prior eight years. While the FTC cannot compel companies into adopting more eco-conscious policies, the agency is permitted by law to stop marketing fraud.

The FTC is specifically targeting greenwashing, the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product in order to increase its sales. The most notable case of alleged greenwashing occurred last year when the FTC accused Kmart of listing paper plates as biodegradable. The plates, the government argued, would not typically decompose in solid waste facilities where most garbage is found. Kmart eventually agreed to alter its “biodegradable” claims in its marketing.

Before the FTC begins enforcing the new rules, the agency will first publish the Green Guides in the Federal Register and institute a comment period. The FTC is expected to announce the updated regulations within the next two weeks, likely issuing the most substantial change to Green Guides in more than a decade.

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