FTC Releases Revised “Green Guides”

The following article is based on a press release issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) entitled “FTC Issues Revised ‘Green Guides.’”

The FTC has also released several business and consumer education resources designed to help users understand the Guides:
  1. Environmental Claims – Summary of Green Guides,” a four-page summary of the changes in the Guides;
  2. The Green Guides,” a video explaining highlights of the changes;
  3. new page on the FTC Business Center, with links to legal documents, the Guides and other “green” content;
  4. Business Center blog post; and
  5. Related consumer information.
October 8, 2012 | The Federal Trade  Commission (FTC) revised its “Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims” on October 1 to help marketers ensure that the claims they make about the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and to account for recent changes in the marketplace.

The FTC released its proposed revised Guides in October 2010; the new version reflects a wide range of public input based on hundreds of consumer and industry comments gathered over the last two years, as well as information gathered from three public workshops and a study of how consumers perceive and understand environmental claims.

The revisions include updates, modifications and clarifications to the existing Guides as well as new sections on environmental claims that were not common when the Guides were last reviewed – such as the use of carbon offsets, “green” certifications and seals of approval, “free-of” and non-toxic claims, and renewable energy / renewable materials claims. They do not address use of the terms “sustainable,” “natural,” and “organic.” (Organic claims made for textiles and other products derived from agricultural products are covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.)

“The introduction of environmentally friendly products into the marketplace is a win for consumers who want to purchase greener products and producers who want to sell them,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “But this win-win can only occur if marketers’ claims are truthful and substantiated.  The FTC’s changes to the Green Guides will level the playing field for honest business people and it is one reason why we had such broad support.”

Among other modifications, the Guides caution marketers not to make broad, unqualified claims that a product is “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly” because they suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits.  The FTC states that very few products have all the attributes that consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making them nearly impossible to substantiate.

The Guides also:

  • 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.

First issued in 1992 and last revised in 1998, the Green Guides describe the types of environmental claims the FTC may or may not find deceptive under Section 5 of the FTC Act.   Under Section 5, the agency can take enforcement action against deceptive claims, which can ultimately lead to Commission orders prohibiting deceptive advertising and marketing, and fines if those orders are later violated.