What Will FTC’s Revised ‘Green Guides’ Mean for Consumers?

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On Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its first revision of its Green Guides since 1998. The revised Guides address how environmental marketing claims can be used on products and their advertising, and were created to protect consumers from misleading claims.

“In short, for many products, confusion abounds – we don’t always get what we think we’re getting,” says FTC Chairman John Leibowitz.

The new Guides not only address revisions on previously defined terms (such as “recyclable”) and their uses, but also new green vernacular that has surfaced since this version of the Guidelines was released almost 12 years ago.

The revisions seek to make the process of verifying environmental claims easier for businesses and marketers to understand, to address new changes and terminology that have arisen in the marketplace since 1998 and to help marketers not make deceptive environmental claims.

“Clearly this means that marketers are going to have to provide more proof and provide it at point of sales for certain common environmental claims that they are making. If something is claimed to be environmentally-friendly, they are going to have to prove the why and find a place on their package or shelf to do it,” says Mike Lawrence, chief reputation officer for Cone LLC.

The new guidelines run the gamut, covering terms from “green” and “compostable,” to what is needed to qualify the use of “made with renewable energy” and “carbon offsets.” Additionally, they will significantly impact green labels used on products, as now only seals of approval and certifications that have requirements for achievement can be utilized.

According to Leibowitz, consumers can expect to see more specificity from companies regarding their green claims. “If you say something is biodegradable, but it’s going into landfills where it doesn’t degrade, you shouldn’t be able to say that,” he says.

The good news for consumers is that environmental marketing claims will, essentially, need to have some sort of qualification or justification to be used, meaning that consumers can have more certainty about the quality of the claims being made in the products they buy.

The revisions are up for public comment for 60 days, ending Dec. 10. After that point, the FTC will review the comments it receives, make any necessary adjustments, and publish its final revisions in the first half of 2011.

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