4 Surprises in the Federal Trade Commission's proposed revisions to the Green Guides

Posted July 23, 2012

Who is in charge of stopping greenwashing? In the U.S. the Federal Trade Commission created the "Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims" or Green Guides for short to help businesses avoid deceptive environmental marketing. The guidelines aren't legally binding, but the courts view them as persuasive authority when evaluating deceptive advertising cases -of which there are many! A recent examination by Terra Choice found that of more than 12K different green advertising claims, 95% were overly vague or entirely unsupported. Yikes.

FTC Green Guides

1) You can't simple say you're eco-friendly.

If a business wants to say they're "eco-friendly" or list any general environmental benefit, they must provide both an explanation of specific benefits and the limits of their claim. The Green Guide revisions state, "it is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product, package, or service offers a general environmental benefit."

2) If you pay to receive a certification, you must tell the public.

The FTC says the public views certifications and eco-labels as endorsements. Therefore, the business marketing a product with a certification must disclose any material connections to the certifier, such as paying for membership. You should not solely advertise a certification just because you are a dues paying member. You must also disclose that you pay for membership and describe the particular environmental attribute/s that make your product "eco-friendly".

3) Not all carbon credits or offsets are equal.

If you want to claim carbon credits for your environmentally destructive production processes or travel, you must do the follow three things. First, the carbon offsets must be based on competent and reliable methods substantiating actual emissions reductions - no double counting. Second, the carbon savings claimed cannot be based on reductions already required by law, because following the law is not more eco. Finally, the carbon credit projects need to be completed within two years.

4) Powered by renewable energy, means all - not some.

Claims of "Made with Renewable Energy" can be placed on products, but only if virtually all the manufacturing process is powered with renewable energy. 50 percent doesn't cut it. Additionally, this claim should not be made if any part of the product or process is powered by conventional fossil fuels. You also must state the type of renewable, i.e. solar, and you're are not allowed to double count (like, selling your generated renewable energy to other businesses).

If you're in doubt about your green marketing claims, they're probably not compliant with the law.

We encourage all of our PosiPair member businesses to give the public as much information as possible so individually we can decide whether or not a company meets our personal standards. Total transparency is the only way to be green in 2012.
~ by Sarah Manski for PosiPlanet, the blog of the founders of PosiPair.com

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