FTC Issues Revised "Green Guides" to Help Marketers Avoid Making Misleading Environmental Claims
Today, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its revised Green Guides that are designed to help marketers ensure that the claims they make about the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and non-deceptive. The revisions include updates to the existing Guides, as well as new sections on the use of carbon offsets, "green" certifications and seals, and renewable energy and renewable materials claims.
The Guides apply to environmental claims included in labeling, advertising, promotional materials and all other forms of marketing, whether asserted directly or by implication. While technically not enforceable regulations, the Guides will likely be used as a measure by the FTC and in other legal actions for determining if a marketer's claim is adequately substantiated if it is challenged.
The revised Guides can be downloaded here.
In revising the Green Guides, the 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 that 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 contain new sections on: 1) certifications and seals of approval; 2) carbon offsets, 3) free-of claims, 4) non-toxic claims, 5) made with renewable energy claims, and 6) made with renewable materials claims.
The new section on certifications and seals of approval, for example, emphasizes that certifications and seals 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."
WDMA will be a doing a review of the new Guides. In the meantime, more information on today's announcement can be found at the FTC website.