Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission proposed revisions to the guidance that it gives marketers to help them avoid making misleading environmental claims, also known as “greenwashing”. The proposed changes, which were approved for public consideration by a 5-0 vote, are designed to update the FTC’s “Green Guides” and make them easier for companies to understand and use, as well as to strengthen the FTC’s guidance on those marketing claims that are already addressed in the current Guides and to provide new guidance on marketing claims that were not common when the Guides were last reviewed.
The proposed changes were developed using information collected from three public workshops, public comments, and a study of how consumers understand certain environmental claims. The FTC is seeking public comments on the proposed changes until December 10, 2010, after which it will decide which changes to make final.
The Green Guides were first issued in 1992 to help marketers ensure that the claims they are making are true and substantiated. The Guides were revised in 1996 and 1998. The guidance they provide includes: 1) general principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims; 2) how consumers are likely to interpret particular claims and how marketers can substantiate these claims; and 3) how marketers can qualify their claims to avoid deceiving consumers.
The revision process is part of the newly intensified effort on the part of the Federal government to crack down on greenwashing. Here are some highlights of what is, and isn’t, in the new revisions:
- Caution against any blanket eco-friendly, due to consumers’ tendency to assume that this means a product is greener than it really is
- Caution against use of unqualified certifications or seals. Qualifications for green certifications should be clear, prominent, and specific.
- New guidance concerning the use of terms like “renewable materials” and “renewable energy”
- New guidance related to carbon offsets
- Still no guidance on terms such as “sustainable” (whew!), “natural”, or “organic” (already regulated by the USDA)
The FTC is seeking comment on all aspects of its proposal. Examples include:
- How should marketers qualify “made with renewable materials” claims, if at all, to avoid deception?
- Should the FTC provide guidance concerning how long consumers think it will take a liquid substance to completely degrade?
- How do consumers understand “carbon offset” and “carbon neutral” claims? Is there any evidence of consumer confusion concerning the use of these claims?
Click here to download a copy of the full report. Click here for an executive summary.