‘Tis the season to remind manufacturers to be careful about their green marketing claims.
Last month, the European Bioplastics trade group launched its Environmental Communications Guide to help marketing and communications professionals to correctly present the benefits of bioplastics based on approved standards.
Last week, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finally revised its Green Guides (Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims) after more than a decade of figuring out the meaning of “green” with series of workshops for the past couple of years.
The last Green Guide was revised in 1998. I remembered mentioning the FTC Green Guide workshops in January 2008 (I started the green blog in November 2007) and when the FTC released the proposed revised Guides in the fall of 2010.
As the website Sustainable Brands pointed out, The first notable difference between the 1996 and 2012 Guides is their length and breadth. The old Guides had 8 sections, of which only 2 (Sections 6 and 7) were substantive. The new Guides have 17 sections and several claims were discussed such as compostability, degradability, non-toxicity, ozone-safe/ozone-friendly, recyclability, renewable energy, refillable (huh?), renewable materials, source reduction claims and carbon offsets.
According to the FTC, the new Green Guides reflect a wide range of public input including hundreds of consumer and industry comments. The Guides caution marketers not to make broad, unqualified claims that a product is “environment friendly” or “eco-friendly” as according to the FTC, 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.” – FTC
The New Guide also (I’m just copying and pasting these statements….):
- Advise marketers not to make an unqualified degradable claim for a solid waste product unless they can prove that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within one year after customary disposal;
- Caution that items destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities will not degrade within a year, so marketers should not make unqualified degradable claims for these items; and
- Clarify guidance on compostable, ozone, recyclable, recycled content, and source reduction claims.
The Green Guide also do not address use of the terms “sustainable,” “natural,” and “organic.” as the FTC noted it lacks a sufficient basis to provide meaningful guidance for these terms or the FTC wants to avoid proposing guidance that duplicates or contradicts rules or guidance of other agencies.
For example, organic claims made for textiles and other products derived from agricultural products are covered by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.
For certifications and seals, the FTC cautions that marketers should use clear and prominent qualifying language that clearly conveys that the certification or seal refers only to specific and limited benefits.
For those too lazy to read the Guide, you might want to watch this video instead. Although there are great scenario examples from the Green Guide that you might want to check out.