October 2, 2012

Federal Trade Commission Issues Revised "Green Guides" to Help Companies Avoid Making Misleading Environmental Claims

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the same agency that brought you the regulations regarding "made in the USA" labels and advertising, has updated their "Green Guides" as of October 1, 2012. They were first issued in 1992 and revised in 1996 and 1998, and proposed these current revisions in October 2010. The Guides are important if you sell a product using claims that your product is "eco-freindly" or "environmentally friendly" among other terms. Ironically the Guides caution marketers not to use such terms because the FTC’s consumer perception study confirmed that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits and that "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 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. Again the Guides are not "laws" or "regulations" but "guidance". They describe the types of environmental claims the FTC may or may not find "deceptive" under Section 5 of the FTC Act. The Guides do not address use of the terms "sustainable," "natural," and "organic," the last of which is covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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. According to the Ecolabel Index there are 432 ecolabels in 246 countries, and 25 industry sectors.

A four page "summary" of the Guides is viewable here (to view in PDF) or for download here and the regulations themselves (which will be much longer and more detailed) will be published in the Federal Register soon. We can send you a copy upon request.

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